T‘gana polls: These villagers trek 16km to vote

KHAMMAM: Barely 50% of Hyderabadis came out to vote in Telangana’s first assembly election on Friday despite most people having polling booths at a stone’s throw from their homes.

In stark contrast, residents of the tribal hamlet of Penugolu in Jayashankar Bhupalpally district live in one of the most inaccessible terrains and have to trek 16 km to cast their vote at polling booth number 15 at Jangalapally village in the Bhadrachalam ST reserved constituency.

Despite this 50 of the 56 voters of Penugolu made the arduous trek through a hilly, unpaved path and cast their votes on Friday. The six who did not vote have infants to look after and could not have made the journey. U Ravi, 30, carried his three-year-old daughter on his shoulder all the way from the hills to the polling booth. The villagers began their long walk at 8 am and reached the booth at 12.30 pm.

Penugolu is closer to the Chhattisgarh border and more than 600 km from Hyderabad. Telangana police officials say that they have seen the movement of Maoist groups in the area but this did not deter the villagers.

Among the voters was 70-year-old grandmother, Uika Sammakka, who sets an example every time by casting her vote. There was also an 18-year-old first-time voter Uika Govind who walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Sammakka.

In fact, some 10 senior citizens from the hamlet made the trek on Thursday night to avoid last minute strain. They were given shelter by fellow villagers who have settled in the plains since 2009.

The villagers don’t need a ‘Newton’-like character to get them vote. “Our elders told us that if we don’t vote, we will be considered dead in government records. So, we vote as if it’s a tradition,” says U Ramesh, another resident of Penugolu who works as a teaching assistant.

Completing the trek for the sake of democracy is not something these villagers are proud of.

‘No special provisions’

After reaching the booth on Friday, they thought of a protest but decided against as there was no official present there. “Some of us came down the hills after we were promised land in 2009, but nothing happened and we are still working as labourers in other people’s fields,” says Payam Narasimha Rao who lived in Penugolu till 2009. Vijaya Lakshmi, the returning officer and local revenue officer, says, “According to rules, we can’t make any special arrangements for residents to reach booths. The nearest point is the school. We can make special arrangements only for persons with disability.”
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