Polls around, but no ‘muri-gur’ treat for Purulia tribals

April 29th, 2009 - 5:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi Purulia (West Bengal), April 29 (IANS) Panmoni Mandi, Satimani Murmu and Shambhu Hansda are among the 4,000-odd voters in the 76 villages and hamlets of Ayodhya Hills who will be missing out on a feast of ‘muri’ and ‘gur’ this time.
For several years now, on every polling occasion, party workers arrive ahead of voting day and distribute puffed rice and mollases to the impoverished residents on the condition that they stamp on a particular symbol.

But even this simplest of treats has not come by ahead of the general elections Thursday, thanks to a poll boycott call by Maoist rebels.

Most of the poor villagers, in dwellings just 45 km from Purulia town, the district headquarters, and 280 km northwest of Kolkata, do not know who the prime minister is, nor for that matter who the chief minister of West Bengal is.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s recent campaign visit to the region raked up a debate over the district’s development status. Nestled in the jungle slopes of Ayodhya Hills, these remote villages have been cut off from civilisation, as it were, for decades.

No power, no drinking water supply, no health centres, no schools but a lot of ignorance that apparently has not interfered in their daily efforts to eke out a living.

That is why Maoists have gained a strong presence in the region. It is because of their poll boycott call that party workers, besides of course candidates, have skipped a visit to these hills this time. And the seven booths in the area are likely to be devoid of voters Thursday.

In the absence of the treat, there is no cause for them to vote.

As one approached Chhatrajera village, four women could be seen resting in the shade of a tree. The women find customers for their firewood at a weekly market, getting up to Rs.50 for the 40-odd kg each of them carries.

“With the money, we buy rice and dal and other supplies. We can’t afford to have these every day; our main food is ‘pantha bhat’ (rice water) or boiled maize,” said Panmoni.

Asked whether she knew that polls were around the corner, she replied, “We’ve heard that there is some sort of vote soon, but we don’t know anything more.”

Then the “secret” of their vote was revealed.

“A day before the vote, the netas (leaders) come to the village and tell us whom to vote for. We listen to them because they give us chira, muri and gur for free,” she said.

For the 20 households in Chhatrajera, these are a delicacy and allurement enough for the walk up to a booth. The village was in the news a fortnight back when there were protests against police from Baghmundi for detaining a youth for suspected Maoist links.

Villagers are still wary. They look with doubting eyes at any newcomer.

A villager said: “No candidate has ever come to our village, or most of the 70 others in the hills. Their ‘chelas’ (supporters) come two days before the vote and explain things to us.”

Asked who the West Bengal chief minister was, one hazarded a guess: “Jyoti Basu? Ki naam bote? (Who is it?)”

It’s the same in Ratandih, a few kilometres away on the other side of the hill. “Do you know who the prime minister is?” A blank stare and the words “Na bote” (don’t know) is all one gets from Shambhu Hansda.

At Borogora village, Raimuni Paharia has just returned after collecting “drinking” water from a hill stream 150 metres away. The stream is the source of water for people, wild animals as well as village dogs.

“Each time there is a election, some partymen come down and promise us a well or a tubewell. But nothing happens after that. We go to vote for the food they give us,” the 45-year-old woman said.

“The administration has carried out about 10 percent of the work here compared to villages in the plains,” points out Tapan Das, Baghmundi block secretary of the Adivasi Mulbasi People’s Committee.

“We have set up a health centre by collecting meager subscriptions from the villagers. We cannot wait any longer for the government to help us. We have done that for decades,” he said.

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Politics |