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Voters in Swabhiman Anchal no longer fear election

Villagers watching developmental videos on a laptop in Hantalguda village inside the Swabhiman Anchal in Odisha.

Villagers watching developmental videos on a laptop in Hantalguda village inside the Swabhiman Anchal in Odisha.

For the first time, Ramdas Sisa may not need to carry a shaving blade to cast his vote. Or pretend to be drunk while walking back from the polling booth. The sexagenarian tribesman is looking forward to casting his vote without any fear in the upcoming rural polls in the Swabhiman Anchal.

The tactics Mr. Sisa resorted to for years was apparently to avoid the wrath of the Left Wing Extremists (LWEs). He lives in Jodambo village, in the Swabhiman Anchal, also known as the Cut-Off Area in Malkangiri district that has witnessed several bloody attacks on the security forces by the outlawed CPI(Maoist).

“After casting my vote I would earlier scrape off the indelible ink mark with a shaving blade to erase proof of my voting. Or, I would totter back home to escape the attention of the extremists,” Mr. Sisa said.

His neighbour, Anand Silai, would head for a relative’s home from the polling booth to avoid being spotted anywhere near Jodambo post-polling.

The villagers would be tortured if found to defy the Maoists’ diktat against participating in the election, they alleged. But now the fear of voting is gone, given the strong presence of security forces and the extremists beating a retreat, Mr. Sisa said.

At Luchapani village under Papermetla gram panchayat, Dambaru Kila is happy that his elder son, Paul, who had to spend five years away from family due to the Maoist threat, would vote for the first time in the panchayat election.

Panchayat polls are scheduled to be held in five phases in Odisha between February 16 and 24. Probably for the first time in decades, the election is expected to be held smoothly and helicopters won’t be used to air-drop the pollsters. The 2017 panchayat election could not be held following threats by the red rebels. The 2012 polls witnessed an extremely low voter turnout.

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Printable version | May 19, 2022 10:55:47 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/voters-in-swabhiman-anchal-no-longer-fear-election/article38341865.ece