Himachal village with own ‘parliament’ to vote Wednesday

May 12th, 2009 - 3:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), May 12 (IANS) Unconnected by road, it takes more than two days of trekking to reach Malana village in Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh. Residents of the hillside village, which has its own ancient elected “parliament”, will vote in the Lok Sabha polls Wednesday.
Notorious for its illegal cultivation of high-quality cannabis and frequented by foreigners, Malana and its 12 nearby villages have their own “government” and all disputes are settled by the people on their own. It has an “upper house” and a “lower house” with elected and nominated members.

Malana is accessible only through three passes - Jari, Rashol and Chandrakhani - which can be traversed only on foot.

The electorate of the 3,000-year-old “republic” is ready to exercise their franchise in the parliamentary elections.

The Election Commission has set up a polling booth in Malana village where 820 voters, including 423 women, will cast votes. “A polling booth has been established in Malana village. It will serve more than 10 villages located in the vicinity of Malana,” state Chief Electoral Officer Anil Khachi told IANS.

Malana village, located 45 km from Kullu town, is part of the sprawling Mandi constituency that covers almost two-thirds of Himachal Pradesh.

Congress leader and five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) three-time MP Maheshwar Singh are the main contestants. Neither has visited the village to seek votes.

Only after seeking permission from the local god, Lord Jamlu, are outsiders allowed to meet the villagers.

“Though all disputes in the village are sorted out by our own ‘government’, we still have faith in the (Indian) government. We believe in democracy, so will cast votes (during the Lok Sabha polls) for its survival,” said Guj Ram, a former head of Malana village.

“For the past many decades, we were left alone to survive. Now, the government is extending help to us whenever we are in dire straits. We started casting votes almost 15 years ago when the government became sympathetic to our demands,” he added.

Malana village burnt down in January 2008. With the help of the government, the villagers re-built it.

Vivek Mohan, the Shimla-based documentary filmmaker who has produced “Malana - In Search Of”, told IANS: “Even after more than 61 years of independence, successive governments have conveniently left the oldest surviving democracy of Malana to their fate. The tribals believe in their own democratically-elected government and primitive culture. They settle their issues in their ‘adalats’ or courts. Their courts even have power to pronounce capital punishments.

“Now they have started meeting outsiders, but not to a large extent. They prefer to live in their own world. The village could have been on the international tourism map for its rich legacy of culture and traditions. But sadly, it’s infamous for the cultivation of high-quality cannabis. Most villagers are involved in a multimillion dollar narcotics trade.”

“No candidate has visited this village to seek votes. Nobody is bothered about our problems,” Jairam Bali of Magic village said.

But he reposed faith in the Congress-led government at the centre, saying: “Only the Congress has done something to mitigate our sufferings.”

Himachal Pradesh has four constituencies - Shimla (Scheduled Caste), Mandi, Kangra and Hamirpur - that go to the polls Wednesday.

The “upper house” of Malana’s ‘parliament’ has three permanent members and eight elected members. The permanent members are life-long members selected on the principle of reincarnation like that of the Tibetans.

The “lower house” comprises senior adults of the village. All village-level issues and disputes are discussed by the ‘kameti’ or government. In case of no consensus, the matter is referred to Lord Jamlu for settlement.

O.P. Sharma, a former superintendent of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) who was among the first to visit Malana village six years ago, said: “People involved in this clandestine drug trade are spreading their wings by luring more villagers into this multi-billion dollar trade. Alternative farming is the only way to control cannabis cultivation.”

After his retirement from the NCB, he is motivating the farmers to opt for another crop. He said even the police interacted with the villagers for the first time in 1996.

K.K. Indoria, the superintendent of police (Kullu), said: “In the past 10 years, 208 foreigners have been arrested in the state, mostly from Kullu district, and 757 cases registered under the NDPS Act. However, only 74 people have been convicted. Among the arrested foreigners are many Israelis, Italians, French and Japanese.”

He said a large number of foreigners settled in various villages in this district have been actively involved in smuggling narcotics in connivance with local peddlers.

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