Yercaud Tribals Travel 32 KM Uphill to Cast Vote - The New Indian Express

Yercaud Tribals Travel 32 KM Uphill to Cast Vote

Published: 23rd April 2014 07:37 AM

Last Updated: 23rd April 2014 08:27 AM

They live hardly 8 km from the bustling Salem Corporation limits and 3 km from the nearest polling booth in the constituency. Yet, from the very first election after Independence, the people of Karungalli have been travelling 32 km uphill to Yercaud, which is in Kallakurichi, to cast their votes.

Karungalli, a tiny village of 32 houses, is tucked inside the thick Kurumbapatti reserve forest. Only three years ago, the village was connected by a mud road and now it is being topped with blue metal as part of a new service road being laid for the Forest Department from Kurumbapatti to Danishpet.

According to Shanmugam (60), a village elder, the British assigned lands in Karungalli for two Malayali tribal families of cattle-grazers of Mundagapadi village. The two families put up sheds to live and grazed cattle. Over a period of time, the families increased in numbers and started to live permanently in the lands assigned to them. They named the place Karungalli and began to cultivate millets and other crops in about 25 acres and rear sheep and cattle. The families were in touch with the parent village Mundagapadi for religious and other events. For all purposes, they were counted as members of Mundagapadi. The lands assigned to them continued to be in the land records of Yercaud. For the tribals, Mundagapadi was a mere 8-km uphill trek from Karungalli in those days, says Shanmugam. But later, using the forest path was considered as tresspassing and “we started to walk 8 km down a footpath, roundabout to Gorimedu and hop on a bus to Yercaud, which is 27 km from there,” says Shanmugam.

Karungalli was considered a hamlet of Mundagapadi, which in turn was part of Yercaud Township. Later, when Yercaud became a block and Yercaud Panchayat was created, Mundagapadi and Karungalli continued to remain a part of it.

There are an average of six members in every home and 130 voters in the village. Only Shanmugam and another man own about an acre of land each and the rest of the 25 acres they used to cultivate earlier have been bought by outsiders who lent money and took away the villagers’ lands when they could not return it. Till three years back, even for a ration shop and Primary Health Centre, “We had to go to Yercaud. But now we are allowed to buy ration items from the Vinayakampatti ration shop which is 3 km away.” But most of the youth in the village are illiterate, says Periyasamy (60). Vinayakampatti and its Panchayat Chettichavadi are in Salem constituency but when it comes to voting, the people are counted as Mundagapadi villagers and hence are attached to the polling booth at Mundagapadi. “We have been voting at Mundagapadi only. We tried to bring the matter to officials but they said it was not possible due to administrative reasons and it was not possible to operate a booth for just 130 voters,” says Periyasam. “But we have never missed any election so far. Whether political parties arrange vehicles or not, we travel by bus from Gorimedu or Salem bus stand to Yercaud to cast our vote,” says Thangaamma (63).

Shanmugam, 21, who had read a report in a Tamil evening daily about a polling both being established for a lone hermit in Gir forest in Junagat district in Gujarat, questioned why it can’t be done here. He also says the report had mentioned that a booth had to be within a maximum of 2 km distance. However when clarification was sought on the issue, District Election Office senior officials said as per the Election Commission norms, a booth can be set up for a minimum of 1,200 voters and no mention of distance is stipulated.

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