Adivasis in Kokrajhar district of Assam are Voting for the third time — from a relief camp
Sawna Tudu does not exactly remember the date when his third son died of malaria for want of treatment at the age of three in a makeshift relief camp. He only remembers that his wife was carrying the third child in her womb when a violent ethnic clash in 1996 uprooted thousands of downtrodden Bodos and adivasis like him and forced them to take shelter in relief camps.
The adivasi farmer, who now earns his bread by working as daily wage earner and running a small shop, will be casting his vote at one of the three polling centres located within a cluster of make shift relief camps for internally displaced persons.
This will be for the third time that Tudu and about 2,000 other voters of the Joypur adivasi relief camp in lower Assam's Kokrajhar district will be casting their votes in a Lok Sabha poll.
Those in the camp say that politicians remember them only during elections and make promises to rehabilitate them but conveniently forget once the hullabaloo is over.
This time too, the candidates of Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency and their agents have made the same promises when they approached them for votes.
A series of violent ethnic clashes between the Bodos and the adivasis in lower Assam's Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon district in 1996 and 1998 and between Bodos and Muslims in 1993 uprooted 48,556 families from their homes. Some of them have been rehabilitated.
However, for past 16 years, thousands of refugees, mostly adivasis, are still languishing in congested makeshift relief camps in sub-human conditions without proper food, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare and livelihoods. Children born in the camps do not have any idea what a proper home is.
For more than 13,000 occupants of the Joypur relief camp at Karigaon by the side of the National Highway there are only five tube wells as the only source of water for drinking and other household purposes.
The refugees have not heard about the Total Sanitation Campaign and open defecation is the normal practice for children and elders alike.
No ration cards
The government provides them free rice that lasts 10 days of the month. For the remaining 20 days they have to manage for themselves. The government has not issued ration cards.
Some of those who live in the camp have been issued job cards under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). But they are yet to get jobs.
Those in the relief camp are willing to return to their homes provided the government increases the rehabilitation grant from existing amount of Rs. 10,000 for each family to Rs. 50,000.
"The government has been asking us take the rehabilitation grants of Rs. 10,000 and return to our villages. As farmers we need livestock for resuming agricultural activities and at the same time we will also have to rebuild our houses. What will we do with such little amount?" said Ramsing Lakra, president of the camp inmates' committee of Joypur Relief Camp.
Like him, the others are waiting to exercise their franchise during the second phase of polling on April 23.
However, this time they under no illusion that exercising this right will change their lives for the better.
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