Defying a boycott call of Maoists, voters started queuing up at polling booths early Saturday to cast their votes in Jharkhand's maiden panchayat polls.
"I am standing here since 6.15 a.m. We have got a chance to elect mukhiyas (panchayat heads) and will not let go of this chance," said Jamunia Devi, a resident of Ormajhi block of Ranchi.
Polling began at 7 a.m. amid tight security and by 11 a.m., 15 to 20 percent votes were cast, officials said.
Like Jamunia, thousands of voters were eager to elect their representatives for panchayats, the third, grassroots level tier of governance, irrespective of the Maoist threat.
"Maoists cannot decide everything. We have right to elect our mukhiya and sarpanch," said a voter who did not wish to be named.
Enthusiasm was visibly clear on the faces of voters, especially women.
"Mukiyas and sarpanches enjoy more powers and they will sort our problems," said a local, Malti Devi.
Jharkhand has reserved 50 percent of seats for women. The polls will be conducted in five phases.
A total 1,348 panchayats of 77 blocks have gone to polls in the first phase. There are 51,433 candidates in the fray, whose fate will be decided by 43,27,944 registered voters.
Five helicopters are being used for air surveillance. Besides, 426 companies of paratroopers and state police have been deployed to ensure peaceful polling.
The last panchayat polls were held in 1979 when Jharkhand was part of Bihar. After the formation of the state in 2000, the polls were delayed due to a legal battle over reservation to tribal people in scheduled areas (notified tribal areas).
Due to the absence of panchayats, the state loses out on more than Rs.300-400 crore annually in central assistance, which are provided to these local governments directly.