Sixty-seven years after India’s Independence and 40 years after Meghalaya attained statehood, a group of 272 people in East Khasi Hills district will be casting their votes for the first time in a Lok Sabha poll while their 7000 odd neighbours would not.
These 7000 plus eligible voters, who have been living for a long time in this part of the state, have never voted in any election, as they are not registered voters.
Of these people living in 14 villages along the Indo-Bangla border, only these 272 were registered with the Election Commission and got EPIC cards, Secretary of a local village council Brostar Ora said.
The 272 lucky people voted only twice in their lives, in the Assembly election last year and the just concluded autonomous council election. The state election department said it is aware about the huge population which is yet to get voting rights.
But they have to come forward by themselves and claim their rights from the sub-divisional office, Additional Chief Election Officer B Dhar said.
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These 7000 odd people included Garo people and about 1500 non-indigenous tribals displaced after Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. They all live in 14 villages along the international border since time immemorial but are unaware of the facilities offered by the administration.
“Original land owners had rented out their land to them in return for a share of the crops these people produce,” said Ora, secretary of Shella village council.
Ora stopped short of calling them Bangladeshi migrants but admitted they had been living there for a very long time.
He said with the passage of time several land owners knew little about whom their forefathers had rented their land. The Shella village council looks after the welfare of Shella and seven nearby villages.
Lately 272 people got residential certificates as they could produce documents showing them as tenants.
“The SDO of Sohra then issued them the EPIC cards making them eligible to vote,” Ora said.
Umkhabaw is one of the villages under Shella council. Sentu Sangma, headman of Umkhabaw, is one of the 272 who will be voting in the Lok Sabha elections, but does not know who the candidates are.
“All that I know is that we have lived here even before the British set their foot in this part of the world,” Sangma said.
None of these 7000 plus people living in these 14 villages have MGNREGS job cards. There are no healthcare facilities despite reports of leprosy, TB and malaria cases.Safe drinking water is also not available, he said. “Life is hard here. Only the toughest can survive,” Sangma said.