Dalits not allowed to vote in Saran

Times of India

16 April 2009

SARAN: Even in constituencies represented by high-profile politicians like Lalu Prasad and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Dalits are not allowed to vote. On Thursday, a group of Dalits blocked the Patna-Chhapra road angry at not being able to vote.

Even as the polling was going on at a booth located at Awadhpura, a Rajput dominated village, the Dalits complained that they had been beaten up because they did not vote for a certain party. "When I went to vote, I was told to vote for a particular party. When I refused, I was beaten up," said Sanjay Kumar Kunjer, who belongs to the Pasi caste of Dalits.

Kunjer showed his injuries and alleged he had also been stabbed. He said that two other youths of his caste had also received the same treatment. A Dalit woman alleged that this atrocity had been going on right from the morning. "Even in the last Lok Sabha polls, we were not allowed to vote," she lamented. The presiding officer of the booth, Jagdish Prasad, claimed that nothing happened inside the polling booth. "If anything has happened outside the polling booth I don't know about it," he said. The Dalits lifted their blockade after a lot of persuasion. The Rajputs alleged that the Dalits had resorted to stone pelting.

Barring this incident, polling in Saran parliamentary constituency was comparatively peaceful. Long queues of voters, including a high number of women, were witnessed in Chhapra town in the morning. "During the 2004 parliamentary elections, it was peaceful because of the presence of para-military forces. This time it is peaceful without their presence," said Subhash Gupta at Bahurya Kothi. Of course, there were complaints by some about their names not being there in the voters' list despite their electoral photo identity cards. Jaitun Khatun could not vote for the same reason.

BSP candidate Salim Parwez said that it was free for all. "The Election Commission did not fulfil its commitment to ensure voting by Dalits," he said alleging that booths were captured by BJP and RJD men. He, however, stressed that he got votes of BSP cadre and Muslims.

At the BJP office, local leaders also complained about the absence of para-military forces. "Before the polls, we handed a list of 300 polling booths to the DM but there is no deployment of forces there," he alleged pointing out that BJP candidate Rudy had lodged an FIR against the Maker BDO Arvind Rai for rigging polls in favour of RJD.

Poll officials appeared to be wary about complaints. "It appears to be a tactic of political parties to allege rigging at booths where they are weak," said Mahesh Kumar, a police officer posted with Garkha zonal magistrate. "They should have handed the entire region to para-military forces," he said. Another sector magistrate, Ramadhar Singh Yadav, complained that he got several false complaints. "I wasted my time checking a booth where the poll process was completely normal," he said.

The caste divide appeared complete and sharp. At Revilganj, a Rajput dominated hamlet, it was the lotus that appeared blooming. At certain locations in Dighwara the hurricane lamp appeared doing well. It was not without reason that both Lalu and his rival were claiming victory. "This poll has proved that free and fair elections can be held even without para-military forces. It was not possible in the Lalu-Rabri regime," said Rudy.



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