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Junabasti hamlet in Jambaheli village

2019/ migration leading to low participation in elections

Satyasundar Barik, Participation in elections barely gets priority, April 3, 2019: The Hindu

Many villages in Odisha are nearly empty as people have migrated to other States in search of work

She is the lone inhabitant of Junabasti hamlet in Jambaheli village (Nuapada district), which appears to be a ghost village after all families migrated to other States in search of work. But 55-year-old Jematii Paharia has taken up the responsibility of keeping the houses ready for her neighbours if and when they return. As the day progresses, campaign vehicles zoom past, but she is invisible in the empty hamlet.

There are dozens of houses under lock and key in Bhutapani village, three km away from Jambaheli. “About 80 families of my village are in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In many houses, only one or two members are left to guard the token assets,” said Bhuturam Majhi, a septuagenarian whose three sons and their families have migrated to Andhra Pradesh to make bricks. They would return in June and by then the election will be over.

In 2014 elections, some candidates had made special efforts to bring labourers back to the villages to vote for them. However, with only nine days left for the poll, no such move is to be seen this time. Hundreds of villages in the interior pockets of Kalahandi, Nuapada, Balangir, Bargarh and Subarnapur, which constitute India’s one of the poorest regions, wear a desolate look and elections carry no meaning for villagers whose primary objective is to get jobs outside the State. Participation in elections barely gets priority here, says Jemati, mother of three daughters.

EC role required

As per the Odisha government’s data, 1,05,363 persons had migrated in 2017. “The official statistics do not reflect the true picture. More than three lakh migrant workers alone from western Odisha remain outside the State when they should have been in their villages to cast their votes. The Election Commission has to think of making the process inclusive and participatory ,” said Umi Dainel, one of country’s leading experts on migration issues.

In 2019, the size of labour migration has gone up due to prevalence of drought-like situation. “These labourers migrate in semi-bonded conditions due to lack of livelihood options,” he said.

It is not easy to bring labourers back for casting votes even for one day, said Dayasagar Pradhan, who has spent 11 years near brick kilns outside Odisha to understand misery of migrant labourers.

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