They dared death to keep democracy alive

Surjit Saroch scaling the sheer cliff.

Behind the smooth conduct of elections are some real-life heroes who put their lives on the line to fulfil people’s democratic rights. Fifty-three-year-old Surjit Saroch trekked relentlessly for 35 km for two days, scaled steep mountain cliffs amid heavy downpour, braved thick, dark forests and shooting stones to reach the remotest polling station in Himachal Pradesh. For a scary sizable part of the arduous trek, Surjit and his team of 19 clung on to vertical mountain sides with barely a foothold.

The back-breaking trip with a load of electronic voting machines (EVM) began with a two-day journey meandering through steep hill roads before the team got on to another two-day journey on foot on unpredictable tracks.

Surjit told DH on Wednesday evening that a major part of the journey involved trekking over mounds of slush from landslides that swamped whatever remained of the narrow trek route.

“There were shooting stones from the top of the mountains that darted past our bodies like bullets. Every other moment we faced death. Many areas were snow clad, making the trek even more gruelling,” he said.

Owing to the harsh weather, the team could not be airdropped to the remotest polling station of Bara Banghal in Kangra district. The team was heavily loaded with rations and cooking apparatus to survive for two days. “It was originally a 75-km trek to be covered in three days. But this main trek route was closed due to heavy landslides. So, we had to take this treacherous 35-km trek journey on foot for two days to conduct elections,” he told DH.

Their hard work paid off. The two polling stations registered a record in excess of 85% turnout. Surjit says he wasn’t sure where they would rest that night. “Nineteen of us managed a stay in two-and-a-half rooms that rainy night,” he said.

The majestic Ravi river roaring through the gorge hundreds of feet below was a nightmare. Surjit, a teacher and a trained martial arts exponent with a superior Karate black belt, says deputy commissioner Kangra Sandeep Kumar stayed in touch with them all through. Thankfully, it was a chopper ride on the way back. For all the risk and hardship, the five youth porters accompanying the team were paid only Rs 700 a day in keeping with the approved rates.

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