Frustrated with the apathy of successive governments in providing basic facilities, voters in the Puranipodu tribal settlement boycotted the elections on Sunday. This settlement in the Biligiri Rangana Betta (BR Hills) of Yelandur taluk has 285 voters.
Even after six decades of Independence, their settlement lacks basic facilities, and the residents would have had to trek 4 km to vote. The efforts of the district administration to conduct the polls failed.
“Though funds for laying a road have been sanctioned, the Assembly elections came in the way. Our best efforts to convince them to vote failed”, M.V. Savithri, Deputy Commissioner, said.
Meanwhile, Padasalanatta in Male Mahadeshwara Betta (MM Hills) with 189 voters, which is even more inaccessible, decided to vote following an assurance from Ms. Savithri that the administration would respond to their demands.
The contrasting reactions of residents of these two Adivasi hamlets showed just how perilous life is in the tribal hamlets in and around MM Hills and BR Hills. Like Male Mahadeshwara, the sitting deity of MM Hills, politicians, officials and administrators have been deaf to the prayers of the people.
Getting to Padsalanatta settlement is truly an uphill task. The haadi (as a settlement is referred to) is 18 km from MM Hills and connected by a steep gravel road that even the toughest motor vehicle cannot negotiate.
It can be reached by trekking either from Indiaganath or Gopinatham, a gruelling four and six km depending on where you are coming from. The Adivasis here belong to Beda Gampana tribe.
If anybody falls sick, it entails a hazardous trek, with serious patients carried in a doli (hammock tied to bamboo pole), shouldered by fittest among the tribal people. The journey from haadi to Kolattur (bordering Tamil Nadu) is some 20 km. They have to carry torches during night, to avoid elephant attacks. Life is by and large the same in 23 haadis in the two hill ranges.
Water a rare commodity
“Though solar lights are provided, they don’t function most of the time and people have to depend on firewood for lighting. Water is another rare commodity here and people depend on unhygienic water bodies”, said Dammada (45) of Padasalanatta.
Ms. Savithri said “ The district administration that visited some of the haadis to set up polling booths assured people of sinking wells,” adding that thought the district administration is prepared to rehabilitate them, the Adivasis are not ready.
While the younger generation is prepared to be rehabilitated, the aged are against it. “Why should I leave the place where my ancestors lived for centuries?” asks 80-year old Madamma.