Residents of the villages close to Jhiram valley in Darbha block, in south Chhattisgarh’s strife-torn Bastar region, will go to the polling booths on April 10 to vote. But they will do so out of fear of being branded as Maoist sympathisers and treated accordingly by the security forces.
“Under the prevailing circumstances of fear, villagers will cast their vote to avoid giving any misplaced impression that they are complying with the Maoist call to boycott the elections,” said Sukhdev Nag, 28, a member of the Darbha panchayat near the Jhiram valley.
What bothers tribals here is interrogation during the frequent visits by troopers carrying out routine search and combing operations in the region. “After the recent attacks by Maoists on security forces near the Jhiram valley, the presence of the forces appears intimidating,” said a villager who didn’t want to be named.
The sarpanch of Elangnar village, Mangi Bai, 26, said more than 160 families not far from Jhiram are among those who will vote out of fear of the security forces. “The tribals are fighting the perception of trust deficit between the forces and the villagers,” she said.
In some villages of Darbha block, people didn’t show much interest in the assembly elections last November largely because of Maoist terror. This time it’s fear instilled by the security forces. “We will just go and vote for anyone,” said Gagan Joga, 34, of Takahwada village, indicating that the party or candidate doesn’t matter.
“We learnt about the candidates and the polling date only during our recent visit to the weekly market,” Joga said.
The distrust of the local people by the security forces intensified after Maoists ambushed security personnel near the Jhiram valley on March 1, killing 15 of them. Jhiram, referred to as the Valley of Death by the forces, was where Maoists killed 27 people, including many top state Congress leaders last May.