Thereby hangs a tale : Harrowing memories of a blast victim
There was this insinuation that the victims of the 2004-05 landmine blast were denied compensation even after the amount was long back released by the State Home Department.
To authenticate the report a team of journalists set out to meet some of the victims at their respective homes in the hinterland of Churachandpur district. The team included me, a Sub-Editor of The Sangai Express, the district correspondent and an Editor of a local monthly magazine.
It was the mid of 2012 and I was doing my mandatory one-month internship at The Sangai Express as a student of journalism. The purpose of the visit was to get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth. Through a liaison a phone appointment was made with one of the victims who agreed to meet us.
The then local MDC for all his generosity provided us one Scorpio jeep for the trip. We left Lamka at around 10.30 am and reached our destination after one-hour tribulations. It was a small village and locating the victim’s home was not difficult.
In right earnest we took out our equipments and other paraphernalia and straight away bombarded him with the customary when, where, what, why, who and the how of journalistic practices. With vivid description and mental graphics he narrated the details of that fateful incident while we listened attentively jotting down any useful piece of information gleaned from him.
“It was sheer providence that I did not step on that log that was meant to trigger the land mine hidden beneath,” he narrated. Albert, 32 was one of the fortunate survivors of the numerous land mine blasts of the early 2000’s that had scalped many innocent lives in Chandel and Churachandpur district.
Albert (name changed) and two of his companions were on their way home when they accidentally stepped on a landmine which claimed one live and maimed the other two for the rest of their lives.
The three of them were returning from their jhum fields located at a distance of around 30 kms from their native village. They had gone there for clearing the jungles of a neighbouring village as their own village did not provide any avenue for agricultural or jhum activity.
In the mean time the Indian army had launched a full-scale military operation to flush out the UGs entrenched inside the jungles of Chandel and Churachandpur district. As pitched battles were fought the dark jungles of Chandel district were continuously illuminated by heavy artilleries and as the mountains reverberated with the cacophony of gun fire and bombs. Ferocious battles were fought and ultimately the Indian armies gained the upper hand.
“Our family members were worried and insisted us to return home. But we protracted our stay as the slashed trees and boughs were almost ready for burning. But we were forced to return as the battle had escalated and nowhere was safe. The sounds of gun shots and fusillade of bombings were coming nearer and nearer to our jhuming area,” narrated Albert.
“It was dawn as we returned home. After trekking for hours we reached the foothills of Hollenjang village from where the path started ascending upwards the hill. Slowly we clambered up. Our path was blocked by a big log lying in the middle. Adjacent to the log was a smaller one which was purportedly kept as a step or ladder for ascending over the bigger log,” he continued.
Among the three I was in the front. Ignoring the small log I leapt over it and the next guy after me did the same. I am still at loss what induced me to jump over the log that day. Though I was tired from the long hours of trek but when I saw the log blocking our path at the reflex there was a childish urge to jump over it. We were almost ten feet apart from one another.
Suddenly, I heard a loud explosion in the back. And simultaneously I stepped on another, but was innocuous comparing to the one planted on the big log, and was flung ten feet away by the impact. Confounded and dazed by the impact my mind was feeling numb. Everything around became a hallucination. My eyesight became dimmer and I fainted.
A feeble call of my name woke me up from my slumber only to realize that my left leg had been lacerated. My maternal uncle was badly ripped apart by the first blast and was moaning in pain.
The pain in my leg was excruciating as blood spurted out profusely. Mustering all my energy I crawled towards my uncle and embraced him in my arms. I had a hunch that he won’t survive. His life was hanging on the thread and the end was near.
Cuddling him I comforted him not to worry. He also knew that the call of eternity was already ordained for him. The thought of his children’s future after his demise troubled him very much. I assured him that his children will be well looked after and he shouldn’t worry about it. I assuaged him to keep his unstinting faith in God, the Almighty and place everything at his disposal. The two of us embraced one another and cried out to God. As I opened my eyes he had yielded his life to God.
The man in the middle was yet to regain consciousness. Shocked and stupefied he was blabbing incoherently. Fortunately, his injury was minor. He was sent to nearest village to get help. He and some of the villagers reached the blast site at around 11 am. Strapped on bamboo poles we were carried till Hengshi village where a Shaktiman drove us till Chakpikarong army post.
The army posted there refused to attend us on the contention that we were militants. I vehemently denied the accusations but they refused to buy it. If not for the intervention of two of my distant relatives serving in the Indian army, they would have let me bled to death.
Such chivalry on the part of the Indian Army in their conventional war conduct is highly admirable, lampooned one of my colleagues.
After administering first aid I was shifted to RIMS hospital where they amputated my leg. I had to go for another amputation as my condition deteriorated. The doctors told me that my leg was on the verge of acquiring cancer if the second amputation was not done.
I had many visitors ranging from families, politicians, social leaders, police and sleuths and the Medias. The Government gave me 9000 rupees for my treatment but I spent more than 1.5 lakh for the treatment, he moaned.
“Surprisingly, one of the proscribed outfits assisted me with 50,000 rupees but only Rs. 20,000 managed to reach me”, the pain in his voice was tangible.
He was emphatic that the splinter of the bomb indicated something else. He was told to keep his mouth shut pertaining to the ownership of the bomb.
So, it can be infered that the blame imputed to one proscribed outfit for all the landmines victims of those days might be specious and thereby hangs a tale.