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How they defied age, distance, apathy to vote How they defied age, distance, apathy to vote

Apr-25-2014 | 0 Comments

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COIMBATORE: Nanjammal, in her eighties, clad in a yellow sari worn the tribal way was having her bare right shoulder massaged by her grand-daughter Radha Rangaswamy at the Anaikatty polling booth. She was resting for a couple of hours before she began the 90-minute trek uphill to return home. In addition to the strenuous uphill trek, she is worried about being able to reach home by 6pm to avoid animal attacks.

The septuagenarian, a resident of Thoomanur, a village on a hill near Annaikatti, trekked down eight kilometres and took a bus for another three kilometres just to cast her vote. "I thought it is a right given to me by the government and it is my duty to vote. I have been voting in every election since I was 20," she says.

Other tribals inhabiting mountain villages in and around Coimbatore express similar sentiments. At a time when polling percentages in urban areas are just average, most polling booths in places like Annaikatti, Narasipuram and Palamalai recorded around 80% polling by 2pm itself.

Braving the heat, the long trek on hilly terrain and the fear of animal attacks, voters in these villages made their way to the polling booths. Nanjammal, along with 30 family members began the journey at 8.30am. "We reached the booth at 11am and cast our vote. Since we brought the elders, we decided to break for four hours before beginning our trek back home," says Rangaswamy. "We hope to reach home before 6.30pm," she said, expressing her fear of animal attacks shared by her fellow Irular tribe members.

The drying up of streams and lakes due to the summer has made elephants desperate. Elephants which used to stray into villages only after 7 pm and leave by 6 am, have begun straying more often and at odd hours. "Just 10 days ago an elephant was seen in Narasipuram at 7.30am and attacked a man getting ready for work," says Kalyanasundaram, guard-in-charge of forest range officers in Narasipuram area.

This was one of the reasons polling percentages in tribal villages jumped from 15% to 20% at 8am to more than 60% by 12 noon. "Between 9am and 2pm is the safest time to step out," says K Veeran, a resident of Pasumani village.

Around 300 villagers, all belonging to the Irula tribe, trekked down to Annaikatti from Thoomanur and Sembukarai to cast their vote. "Unless we vote, we do not have a right to ask the candidate for any favours," says R Mahendran, a resident of Sembukarai. "We need them to introduce public transport," he said. They only have the option of taking a jeep which makes just one trip a day.

The fact that political parties did not bother campaigning in their village or ask them for votes did not deter them. "That does not concern us, we are coming to vote for a party who we believe will do its best by us," says R Veerabhathram, an Irular from Maankuzhi village, who trekked four kilometres in one hour to caste his vote at the Palamalai polling booth.

The only polling booth in Palamalai serving residents from three mountain villages saw 321 of the 388 voters exercising their franchise by 2pm itself.

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