The Kol Adivasi community of Chitrakoot declares a strike on voting rights until their demands from the early 90’s are met
A bubbling-under resistance movement is brewing strong and angry in the Hindi heartland that drastically swung from supporting the BSP through the years to a decisive BJP win in the last election.
The Kol adivasis of Manikpur in U.P.’s Chitrakoot district have declared an election boycott i.e. they will not vote for any political party in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The political boycott remains until their demands for water, road transport, and inclusion onto the Scheduled Tribe status are met, they affirm.
In the same vein as Bargadh village’s women voters, who vow to usher in a new government following the dismal performance of the current regime specifically with regard to policies touted as pro-poor such as Ujjwala Yojna, the residents of Kota Kandaila, Panhai, Uncha Dih, have declared their protests and even made the banners specially informing the hopefuls who have been those visitors chunks of our populace gets to host every five years.
Terming themselves the Kol Ekta Manch, the banners carry an undersigned ‘all citizens’ signature, a testament to a struggle that has been an ongoing one ever since the Independence of India – changing their current SC status to ST.
Anand Kumar Singh of Sigwa village states the core problem, “Not a single MLA or MP or official or bureaucrat has even glanced in this direction after procuring his votes. One of our greatest problems is transport. The roads of our grandfathers no longer exist – and no one cares to think about which road connecst to Hanumanganj or Manikpur, to us.” An angry Phoolkumari adds, articulate in her rage, speaking of the other big problem that this largely Kol Adivasi populace faces, besides transport – water, or the stark lack of it. “How is a poor man to get to Hanumanganj? Travel through the jungle on foot, not a rupee in your pocket, that’s how! Men have had their necks twisted, murdered, as they were making their way in the wood! That’s all we ask for. Water, a road, a little improvement in our standard of living. Do we not deserve that? And what is the meaning of casting your vote if none of this is likely to happen.”
The decision to boycott comes from decades of being wooed and ignored, again and again. If you speak with Premchand Kol, he is bound to show you a paper he ferries around that is an acknowledgement from the Mulayam Singh government promising due redressal and consideration to the demands raised by the Kol Adivasis of the area. The letter is dated 2006, and the demands remain the same.
Off the 36 lakh Kols in Uttar Pradesh, the estimate of Mau Manikpur Vidhan Sabha’s Kol voters as of early 2019 is 70,000 – needless to add, as the disenfranchised bahujan votebank, they wield considerable political weight. Shakti Singh Tomar, spokesperson for BJP hopeful from this constituency R. K. Patel opts for the equivocal response. “What is the quota for Scheduled Tribe status, tell me? It is 3%.” Tomar goes onto reason that while gram sabhas are able to elect upto 25 pradhans through SC reservation, an ST status will imply a significant dent in representation. And what of their immediate demands, we ask? “Projects to cement roads that would shorten travel hundred-fold, thousand-fold in fact, are in the planning stages”, he informs us.
Budhraj Patel, the pradhan of the 25000-strong gram sabha, supports the boycott, “The people [of Kota Kandaila] are right: These are the very interiors, and there is no sign of development in these parts.”
Premchand from the community minces no words when he pronounces, almost poetically, summing it up, “The only real currency around here, which has value, is the Kol vote.” And it is this very currency that an entire community, with an eye on polling date May 6, is being forced to hold to ransom.
This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on The Wire.