The Birhor are so jaded about the value of their votes—they have been so ignored by the power structures of their district—that they saw no reason to vote in the recent Indian elections. According to The Telegraph, one of India’s major papers, at least 80 families living in several villages in the Gomia block, the Bokaro district in Jharkhand state, felt that voting meant absolutely nothing to them. So they stayed home.
When asked about the parliamentary elections, one Birhor man said, as translated by the paper, “Does [the] election provide rice? No food, no water, no power, so no vote.” The local voting for parliament was held last Thursday, April 17.
The Telegraph summarizes the poverty of the Birhor people. Most lack sufficient food, access to clean drinking water, and sources of a livelihood. Beyond those essentials, they also do not have electric power, schools, or roads. They are, basically, ignored.
Political candidates did not venture into their remote villages anyway, perhaps to avoid the difficult questions that the villagers might have raised, despite the fever pitch that campaigning had reached across the rest of the state. Furthermore, no district or Election Commission officials had visited the villages to alert the Birhor about their voting rights.
Sumri Birhorin, from the village of Birhortand, told the reporter that their member of the legislative assembly did visit the village once to distribute blankets, but the member of the national parliament has not visited “even once in the last five years to know about our conditions.”
Puran Birhor, another villager, made a similar statement. Until January, they had been given supplemental food grains, but that supply has been terminated.
The journalist found that village elders—Phulo Birhor, Jhamu Birhor, Phulmati Birhorin, and Campa and Sita Birhorin have never seen a ballot box, much less an electronic voting machine. They have never in their lives felt that there was any reason to vote. As The Telegraph summarized Birhor reactions, “elections mean nothing” to them.