The tribes of Abujhmarh — un-surveyed forest land in south Chhattisgarh — will have to cover a distance of 15 to 50 km to vote, depending on the location of their villages as all the booths of the area have been relocated.
Miles to go
“Even if I start at 3 a.m., I will not be able to reach the booth by the time polling closes,” said Sudru Khosa, a resident of the village Gattakal. Mr. Khosa will have to walk approximately 50 km to reach his booth at Orchha – a situation that may only make worse the poor polling percentages recorded in 2008 in these parts.
Altogether 169 booths have been shifted in south Chhattisgarh, including 16 in Abujhmarh. More than 7000 voters of the re-located booths will have to trudge long distances if they are to disregard the Maoist boycott call, district officials of Narainpur told The Hindu.
The Chief Electoral Officer, Sunil Kujur, has said that since the electors routinely walk to collect subsidised food, re-location of booths is not a big problem.
The Abujhmarias – the residents of the 3900 square kilometres forest land – are one of the primitive tribes of India and many of them have never voted. However, some of them have memories of helicopters landing in their villages with ballot boxes. “I remember the giant copters landing in the village carrying boxes with papers…perhaps 15-20 years back,” said Sonaru Khosa, who works as a cook in a residential school in Ader, another village deep inside Abujhmarh.
This time voting may be a luxury for many here. “If I had to take my wife and daughter to vote, I need to hire a tractor which will cost Rs. 2,000 rupees as the booth is nearly 40 km from this place,” explained Mr. Khosa’s neighbour, Lakhmu.
Election officials provided a different perspective. “In any case, Maoists will not let anyone vote … why risk lives,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
The 2008 story
Many villagers in Kuakonda block, in eastern Dantewada did not vote in 2008, even when the booths were not shifted. Nilabhaya, Burgum, Potaly, Kakri and Medpal – the idyllic villages of the block – polled six, three, five, nine and seven votes, respectively.
The villagers did not deny that the rebels asked them to abstain from voting.
“This time, the Maoists told us not to vote. The police arrived the next day and asked us to vote…but no threats from either side,” said the head of Kakari Panchayat, Apuram Kashyap. But still Mr. Kashyap said the residents of Kakari and other villages may abstain, owing to resentment over the police ill-treating them for allegedly helping the Maoists.
Meanwhile, the Gond tribals complained about the policy of shifting of government-run residential schools to other villages, which are miles away from their homes. The State government has shifted the schools from the villages in order to stop boys and girls from joining the rebels.
“If someone could bring the kids back home, we will vote for him,” said Apuram Kashyap.
But even if he would like to vote, he may not be able to.
The roads to the polling stations were all loaded with landmines a day before the poll in 2008.
“I and the candidate had to remove the mines with our hand to move forward,” said CPI supporter Bhima Mandavi, while showing the way out of Kuakonda block.