In the drought-hit Bundelkhand, 20,000 rural families of Banda and Chitrakoot districts formally issued an election boycott threat in a unique demonstration on Sunday. As many as 21 farmers shaved their head and took out a 'funeral' procession of the candidates in the election fray in the two districts that are going to polls on April 28.
They took the boycott decision and resorted to demonstration as none of the candidates or political parties has made drought, farmers' suicides or starvation deaths as an election issue or made any specific promises in their election manifestos to ameliorate the situation.
Farmers from various Bundelkhand districts, primarily Banda and Chitrakoot, started gathering at Banda's Paduee village since morning.
Twenty-one men queued up under a Neem tree and got their heads and beard shaved as a funeral ritual. At the same time, several others prepared bier of fresh bamboo. They laid 21 bodies made of hay on a single massive bier. "The 21 corpses represented all the candidates in fray in the two districts," said Pushpendra, a farmer and agro-activist of Bundelkhand.
The 21 villagers, all emaciated, lifted the bier and then took out the procession to Badhapurwa, Tindwara, Badohkhar, Banda town and back. One held an earthen pot while another held cow dung cakes during the procession. On return to the Paduee village, they placed the bier under the Neem tree and walked around the corpses as a final ritual.
The 21 pallbearers were all dressed in white linen and had put mask on their mouths symbolizing a silent procession. They did not raise even a single slogan or uttered a word, but along with the bier carried banners with different slogans. The slogans appealed to the people not to vote in the "issue-less" election.
Some of the demonstrators had lost at least one family member to starvation or due to suicide. Among them Achaelal Verma survived an imminent starvation death. His wife Kalli said, "In October, we were struggling with starvation. My husband had taken loans from banks on a piece of 6.5 bigha land. He starved for several days and was on his deathbed. So, I started saving wood for his funeral (from the wood that I had collected to sell)." He survived as the villagers learnt about his situation and contributed food to save the family.
Pushpendra claimed that in 2006, a total of 425 villagers died of starvation/suicide/debt pressure in Banda alone while the toll for entire Bundelkhand was 1,500. His village, Paduee, is infamous for the maximum number of suicides in a single village. Nine farmers committed suicide in the village.
"We have 20,000 rural families affiliated with our Aapada Nivarak Manch who have made up their mind to boycott the election. We are not coercing anyone to boycott it. We are just driving sense in the voters that they should not vote if the election or the next government can't guarantee even a ray of hope to the grim situation in Bundelkhand."
There were reports that while the campaigning has entered its last leg, many villages had not let campaigners enter the villages.