The Malekudiyas in Banjarumale and Kuthlur in Belthangady taluk remain firm on boycotting the 17th Lok Sabha elections, but tribal leaders are hopeful of convincing them to exercise their franchise on April 18.
Malekudiyas at Kuthlur threatened to boycott the election in protest against the district administration’s failure to provide them basic facilities like roads. The tribals at Banjarumale had even installed a banner on boycotting the previous Lok Sabha election.
“The Belthangady returning officer, however, had gotten the poster removed, promising us that the government would implement a package for us,” Ashoka Malekudiya recollected.
The members of the resident colony informed DH that they had been residing in Banjarumale for nearly eight generations. Under former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Land Reforms Act, plantation owners, under a declaration deed, had handed over nearly 300 acres to 37 families. The families live under constant threat of eviction as the extent of the land they possessed has not been mentioned in the RTC (Record of Rights, Tenancy and Crop).
“Thus, we do not get farm loans from cooperative banks or public sector banks. We are forced to take loans from money lenders,” complained a senior Malekudiya.
Ashok Malekudiya said that they got to know of the government’s move to declare the deed signed between them and the plantation owners as null, following a series of aerial surveys. “In order to protect our land, we met Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and the deputy commissioner at least three times,” he added.
Incidentally, none of the Malekudiya families in Banjarumale has BPL cards.
“Our demands to renovate the existing community hall too has fallen on deaf ears,” Ashok said with disappointment and added that they were in no mood to cast their votes as none of the politicians – barring former MLA Vasanth Bangera – had stood by them in their hour of crisis.
Tribal leaders, however, are still hopeful that the Malekudiyas will withdraw their decision on realising that boycotting elections is not a solution to their problems.
Vasanth Nada, president of the Adivasi Hakkugala Samanvaya Samithi, Belthangady taluk committee, recollected that Revenue Minister R V Deshpande, during his visit to Moodbidri, had responded positively to the demands of the Malekudiyas, including the effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA). “It is the tribals, therefore, who stand to lose any advantage by boycotting the election,” emphasised Nada, who hails from the Marathi Naik tribal community.
Dalit activist Shekar Laila, who had spearheaded the recent agitations by the Malekudiyas, said that they would convince the tribals to express their anger in a democratic manner by casting their votes during the election. “I am positive that the Malekudiyas will realise the futility of boycotting the election,” Laila stressed.
Deputy Commissioner and District Election Officer Sasikanth Senthil said that he was aware of the boycott threats from the Malekudiyas.
“Withdrawal of cases and other issues are policy decisions and will be considered by the government,” he promised.
Polling booth at Banjarumale
In contrast to the other Malekudiya colonies in Dakshina Kannada, the Banjarumale Malekudiya Colony has an exclusive polling booth. The community centre doubles up as a polling booth during the elections.
For the current election, three new voters have been added, taking the list of total number of voters in the colony to 108 voters.