The story of Team Zara

The polling team which had left for the Zara polling station in Kra Daadi district on 23 April had reportedly gone missing, and their whereabouts remained unknown for nearly a month. What follows is what transpired with the team during that time, as recounted by the team’s security officer in-charge.

[ Tasi Darang ]

On the evening of 22 April, upon receiving instruction from the Kra Daadi superintendent of police, I left Palin in the midnight to avail helicopter service in the early morning. I was new to Palin and Koloriang. Without having any time for preparation, I was in Koloriang to avail the helicopter.
In the morning, I got the list of the security personnel who were detailed for election duties. We all met at the helipad. I was chosen as the security officer to conduct the re-polling at the Zara polling station in Pipsorang circle in Kra Daadi district – one of the remotest places in the state.
It took two sorties to drop us all off in Pipsorang, where we got acquainted with one another. The polling team included myself, Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) T Tama, two sector magistrates, Inspector T Padung of the 1st APP battalion, 28 personnel of the 5th IRBn, and polling officials, taking the total to 42 members.
After staying in Pipsorang for a day, we left for Zara early next morning.
The Zara polling station is the farthest polling station in Kra Daadi district, from its headquarters Palin. As the road from Pipsorang to Zara is a hilly track, we started early on the morning of 25 April for Zara, and it took almost nine hours on foot to reach our destination, travelling on the hilly track through deep jungle. We had to scale three hills to reach Zara.
At Zara, following long discussions with the gaon burahs and members of different political parties, we conducted the re-polling on 27 April, and went back to Pipsorang the next day.
The situation turned critical after that.
At Pipsorang, we waited for the helicopter, but the weather turned ugly and heavy rainfall commenced. Every day we hoped for the weather to clear but, to our dismay, the weather turned worse with each passing day.
Pipsorang does not have any basic amenities – no road, no shops – and money doesn’t count there. One Pepsi bottle costs Rs 500, and salt Rs 250. There is no price regulation, or even what might be called a proper shop. The situation was compounded by the unavailability of edible items. Day by day our stocks started running out, and, in fact, the morale of the security personnel and the polling team started deteriorating with each passing day. It was very tough for me to maintain the morale of 31 personnel. Our daily food consisted of boiled leafy vegetables, without any ingredient, salt or pepper.
Our main problem was, even as it was raining continuously, we couldn’t use the Tali and Parsi-Parlo road. That would have been risky, as we received a message that the security threat was very high in that area. Sources informed us that some section of a political party had laid an ambush for us, in order to snatch our polled EVMs. Day by day, hanging bridges – seven to eight in number – were cut down by those miscreants in order to block our way out.
As we were stranded there for more than 20 days and there was no sign of dry weather showing up, ultimately we took the risky decision to move out of Pipsorang via Daporijo (in Upper Subansiri district) – a route which is seldom used by the local people.
On 16 May, after 24 days in Pipsorang, we started our journey. Our plan was to cover the entire distance in three days. On day one, we had to halt at Hania village; on day two at Rikhung village; and we intended to reach Daporijo, via Jikke village, on day three.
It was one of the toughest journeys I ever undertook in my life. We scaled many hills, which took approximately nine hours to climb, and another six hours to climb down. The hills were so high we could look down at the clouds. The local people say that even helicopters cannot reach those peaks.
We scaled eight such peaks on our way. It was an extremely difficult trek. If something happened, no one was there to help us. Besides, the rain continued pouring down, turning the tracks more muddy and slippery.
I noticed that even mithuns and other animals didn’t roam in those areas. In fact, at the beginning of the journey itself, one WT operator, HC Lalit Kumar, surrendered and returned to Pipsorang.
Besides the trouble caused by inclement weather, huge leeches sucked blood. When we opened our shoes, we used to find at least 20 big leeches clinging onto our feet. Also, mosquitoes like damdum had a field day sucking our blood – to say nothing of the many snakes and scorpions we encountered on the way.
We used local porters to carry our luggage. The food was half-cooked and the number of people was quite large. We never had good food and sound sleep. Every day, we started our journey early in the morning, at around 3 am, and reached our destination in the midnight. We walked for more than 20 hours a day. Many suffered cramps and knee joint issues.
On the second day, my knees were injured; yet, in order maintain the spirit of the team, I used two long sticks and kept on walking. A very tough phase of my life it was. The whole scenario was like a veritable hell. In desperation, we drank water from running streams without fear of being infected with any disease. Once, when we were running out of water, we collected rainwater dripping from wild banana leaves.
While I suffered from knee pain, others were also injured. However, we somehow managed to reach Jike village, in Upper Subansiri district, on 18 May.
There I met my friends, DSP Kamdam Sikom and CO Afo Phassang, who had come to receive us. From there, we reached Daporijo on vehicles. Immediately upon reaching Daporijo, however, IRBn constable Taga Nalo had to be hospitalized as he had been suffering from a serious case of low blood pressure.
From Daporijo, on 20 May, we escorted the polled EVMs safely to the intermediary strong-room in Ziro, in Lower Subansiri district, and successfully completed our mission.
I would like to thank our well-wishers, my family, Team Zara, volunteers, presiding officer Nangram, polling officer Tamchi, Chungpi, Lering and Cello, sector magistrate Soping and Sangpio, CO Taju Tama, Inspector Tarin Padung of the 1st APPBn, HCT Doke (CHM) of the 5th IRBn, and the entire security personnel, besides my PSO A Yobin, storekeeper Tadar Chain, and many good people who helped us. And to god, who guided us in one of our toughest journeys.
Last but not least, I would like to thank my friends, DSP K Sikom and CO A Phassang, besides the Upper Subansiri SP and Kamle SP John Pada for their logistic support, and to DSP Lod Tabyo. (The contributor is SDPO, Miao, Changlang.)