Priyatama Naik has been living in a relief camp set up by the Government for seven months now and her sole wish is to go back to her home,which she fled after her husband was burnt alive in the violence that rocked her village in the Kandhamal district of Orissa. Her priority clearly is survival and not casting her vote in the coming Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
Naik is not alone. Several survivors of the riots,who are living in relief camps and elsewhere,met Election Commission officials on Wednesday and sought the postponement of polls in the district.
Their argument is simple: they are not able to go back to their homes because they feel their lives are in danger,as the situation is still tense or their homes have been destroyed. Many say that they have been threatened with dire consequences if they cast their votes. The need of the hour is protection and compensation,they say.
The delegation of 20 affected women,which met Deputy Election Commissioner J P Prakash,also claimed that around 22,000 voters are unaccounted for after the violence.
Human rights activist Hemanta Naik,who coordinated the visit of the victims to the Capital,told The Indian Express that the Election Commission has assured them that it will look into the issue. The victims were asking for the postponement of elections in Phulbani Lok Sabha seat and Phulbani,Baliguda and G Udaygiri Assembly segments.
For us,going back to our homes and restarting our lives are more important. The Government should take steps to facilitate our return and then conduct the polls. The situation is still critical. Young women are being assaulted. They say Christians have no place in Kandhamal and either we should convert to Hinduism or go to America, said Kadamfula Nayak,who lost her husband and mother-in-law in the violence.
The victims also met CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat and urged him to impress upon his new-found ally Naveen Patnaik to ensure their protection. Karat has told us that he will speak to the Orissa CM, said social activist Teesta Setalvad,who organised the visit.
The affected persons made representations to the NHRC,National Commission for Minorities,and the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights. The victims claimed that the state Government was forcibly closing down relief camps ahead of the elections.