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Home > Assembly Elections 2006 > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Krishnakumar in Dharmapuri

In the middle of nowhere, polls don't matter

May 02, 2006

Yerimalai starts where the road ends. Situated on top of a hill in Dharmapuri district's Pennagaram constituency, there is no way to access this small village other than a five kilometre walk through the forest.

There are three such villages in the hills.

As you begin the climb, whoever laid the path for the village knew very well what they were doing. The light-shaded stones are well embedded in the rocky terrain and stand distinctly apart from the surrounding shrubbery even on a no-moon night.

The only problem with the route is that it is at a consistent 45-degree slope and at places where it is not so, only gets steeper.

As the local leading you says the next is the last turn and it's the village after that, the mind simply refuses to believe him. After all, he's been crying wolf and said the same at least 10 times in the past 70 minutes -- like a mother telling an adamant child that this is the last mouthful.

The strong and cool wind that hits you from nowhere confirms that he is, for once right. You have reached the village.

The plateau is green and vast with tiny huts dotting them. The breeze is as cool as it should be in a place where the only machine is a compressor motor squeezing whatever water is left in a well that has been the only water source for the village in the past two decades.

But all this has a price – There is virtually nothing you can do when there is an emergency, like when somebody takes ill or if a pregnant woman goes into labour earlier than expected.

The children go to the only concrete structure that is called a school and where you can't see the solitary tutor more than once a month.

The water is very dirty yellow with particulate matter floating all over. More important, there might not be a morsel to eat for the six months that separate the planting of ragi and harvest.

And, the guy who promised to rectify all this will come after five years to make the same promises again and garner votes.

"One day in every five years, the politicians climb up from one end of the hills, cover all the villages and go down the other end. That will be the last you will see of them for the next five years," says Kaliappan, an 80-year-old man who has spent all his life in Yerimalai.

"Every year, they make the same promises – that they'll lay a road from the foothills to the village, provide clean drinking water and enable us build better houses and the like. But in the 80 years I have seen, only two things have changed. About 25 years ago, the villages got electricity supply, that too after we lugged the poles up here, they just provided the connections. And 15 years ago, they built a school for the village."

An eager kid juts in: "The master comes only once a month." It's been months since the academic year began and the class 2 child says he has been taught nothing but the second multiplication table (From 1x2=2 to 10x2=20).

Of all the demands, the most vital, the villagers say, is the road link. "We have to go down almost every day. Even if there is no coconut to offer to the gods on an auspicious day, we have to go down. And we don't even have the money to stock essentials here," says Kannama, an elderly villager.

Ironically, while all efforts are taken to put up a polling booth for each village up here in the hills, the public distribution shop for the villages is located at a place far from the foothills.

"We depend more on the weekly santhai (A market where farmers from the plains sell their produce once a week.")

Regarding the hospital, Kannamma says, "Though a doctor is supposed to pay regular visits here, all we get is a visit from a nurse once every six months. In case of an emergency, we have to go to the hospital in Palakodu (a village 20 kilometres from the foothills.)

"The situation is worse during pregnancies. In our village, more children are born on the way down than in the hospitals."

Ask them why they do not move to the plains and make a living there, there is a collective snap: "When did we say we are not ready to move to the plains. Give us land equivalent to what we own here and we are ready to move there. But, tell us, which government is ready to give us land in the plains?" a livid Kaliappan reasons.

So, why do the people of Yerimalai take the pains to dirty their index fingers with indelible ink term after term after term?

"We see all the leaders who come here. Since we know nobody will do a thing for our betterment, the entire village sits and discusses which of the candidates was the most convincing while doling out promises and vote for him. After that we hope he does something. Though we know the candidate won't return till the next elections, somewhere deep inside we sincerely hope things will change," says 30-year-old Venkatesh.

The Rediff Specials

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Sub: Polls

Its high time poll processes are made simpler by means of technology. The polling by machines was OK for India of the 1970s. We should ...

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