SIMILIPAL (MAYURBHANJ): Far away from the din of high pitched electioneering, ensconced in the dense forests and hilly terrains of Similipal, the tribals are set to give the city-bred a lesson in democracy.
They might well be not aware of who the Prime Minister or Chief Minister is nor are they bothered about who will form the Government. They have never seen their MP or MLA nor have they come across the candidates of different parties yet. But, the forest dwellers across villages inside India’s fifth largest tiger reserve will still go out and vote on April 29.
Under Mayurbhanj Parliamentary constituency and Jashipur and Baripada Assembly segments, there are around 65 villages nestled in Similipal.Voting is not an easy task for the inhabitants as they have to trek miles through the inaccessible terrains to reach their polling booth. That though is not a deterrent as they not only consider voting as a sacred duty but the polls bring other benefits for them too.
The tribals believe they will not get their entitlements if they do not vote. Then, there is the lure of pre-poll rewards, and cash is the biggest of them all. In the days ahead of elections, the villages transform into a festive atmosphere with feasts arranged by parties and cash doled out in efforts to woo them.
Some tribals admitted that they vote for the leader who gives them money and the decision to vote for the particular party is taken by the village chieftain. “Before election day, we will sit for a meeting. Our village leader will decide whom we would give our votes,” said Das Munda, a resident of Kundribasa, even as he failed to name the local MLA and MP.
However, there are others for whom their vote will amount to receiving social benefits from the Government. An elderly Reda Purty of Uski village said his vote is for the party which gives them rice Re 1 a kilo and pension. Though he was disappointed on not receiving a house and assistance under Kalia scheme, he said the village headman has assured to make them available once the election is over.
Uski has a small market where tribals purchase their daily ration and sell forest produce like honey and jhuna (sal resins). The residents here do no know much about political parties. But they recognise the party symbols.While most of the villages in the buffer zone of the tiger reserve have been provided with solar lights and some have received Kalia assistance, most of the tribals complained that they are deprived of the housing scheme of the Government.
Dependent on agriculture, most of the tribals find it hard to meet their daily expenses as they do not have cash in hand.“Forest produce is the only source of income. But forest officials are not allowing us to sell it. We are forced to sit idle when there is no work under NREGS. It is difficult to come down to foothills everyday in search of work,” said Charan Tiria of Kuanrbil village.
Though there is a mini health centre at Gudgudia, people mostly depend on the village quack as doctors hardly visit the unit. The residents bear untold miseries if anyone falls sick as ambulance service is still a dream for them.
Similipal biosphere spread over 2750 sq km, including 845 sq km of core area, consists of 65 villages. About 6,000 voters from the biosphere contribute to two assembly segments - Jashipur and Bangriposhi of Mayurbhanj district.