Bihar Election 2020: Living in fear, Maoist-affected Jamui afraid to cast vote
Tears our down the cheeks of Sadanand Koda, 66, as he recalls the last Bihar assembly elections in 2015. Back then, Koda defied a Maoist call for poll boycott. He had campaigned for the Janata Dal(United) in his Gurmaha hilly areas in the Maoist-dominated Jamui district and went ahead and voted. Soon after the polls, he and his family were forced into hiding. After 26 days in a neighbours house, he was summoned by the Maoists to a People’s Court. Not going wasn’t an option. He went.
“I pleaded to forgive me. I was not alone. Several others like me had been summoned from different villages. One activist read out the charges against us, which was that we defied their orders,” said Baikunth, 22-year-old son of Koda.
Then every offender was punished . Some were beaten with sticks, Baikunth said. He was asked to hold his ears and do 50 sit-ups. “My life is dear to me. I don’t want to vote this time,” he says.
With 1,293 voters and about 14 tolas, his village is twenty-one kilometres north from Jamui district headquarters. One of the poorest districts of Bihar, Jamui is 160 kilometres from the state capital and goes to polls in the first phase Wednesday.
Many others in his village won’t vote too.
Shailender Kumar Koda, 29, has finished school and is an agent with an insurance company. He disagrees with the ultra-Left ideology. “We are living in fear. We want to get rid of this situation. The government is not doing anything to protect us from the extremists.”
Nearly everybody agrees with him. According to 40-year-old farmer Ram Kumar Sada,all development work has come to a halt. No legislator is interested in the development of the area because they know no one will vote. “The village has been pushed back to the medieval ages,” he said.
“They (extremists) do not allow the government to build roads because they demand heavy taxes from contractors.”
Shailendra Koda believes the Maoist movement in the area has been reduced to “robbery.”
There is no electricity or water supply in these villages. Most houses are made of mud. Women still have to travel several kilometres to fetch drinking water. There are primary schools in almost all villages but in dilapidated conditions.
Gurmaha forest, falling in the Barhet block, is known to be a Maoist hideout. The thick forest allows them to operate with impunity. When threatened they escape to Jharkhand through the forest.
Block head Urmila Devi said development work in the region has been hit because of the absence of government officials. They leave their offices by 2 pm or 3 pm every day (to stay safe), she claimed.
Barhet’s block development officer (BDO) Ajesh Kumar said that a meeting with a social activist from each village in the block, along with concerned officers, will be held within a week to address the issues raised.