Most of the Birhor families in the Bokaro District of Jharkhand State have been unaware of their right to vote in the Indian state and national elections, held last Thursday and today. The Birhor villages mentioned in a recent newspaper article, Tulbul and Khakhra Basti, are remote—miles from the nearest city.
The 350 villagers have evidently never seen, in their communities, a member of parliament or a representative of any of the parties contesting the elections, though they do see an occasional government official. Not only are they ignorant of their right to vote, they are also unfamiliar with ballot boxes or voting machines, according to The Telegraph of Calcutta. Furthermore, they are unclear as to the purposes of an election.
The article quoted an elderly Birhor man: “We drink and be merry. What is an election? Some NGOs visit us often and ask whether we are having any problem. No one has asked us to vote.” The political rallies held in Gomia, a nearby town, have yet to reach the village level in that district.
A representative of one of the politicians defended the fact that they do not campaign in the villages. It was a waste of time, he said. The Birhor may well not bother to come into town to vote anyway, and they are hard to teach. A welfare officer added that his agency is trying to instruct the Birhor in the value of elections, but they have not had much success yet.
The villagers recently did receive a visit from the deputy commissioner of the Bokaro District, Satyendra Singh, when he distributed 35 kg of food grains. The district has recently become concerned about the health and welfare of their Birhor people.