POSTED as an election observer in Navsari for the Gujarat Assembly election, IPS officer Shivdeep Lande had a special task at hand, to coax tribal voters who traditionally remain cut off from the democratic process to participate in the election. On December 9, he greeted tribal voters who turned up at the Babuniya Faliya polling booth in Navsari district with a red rose.
The constituency has around 150 registered voters belonging to the Satipati Sampradaya tribe, who enrolled only in 2012. The tribal population that has kept itself away from the democratic process is now slowing joining the mainstream.
Lande said he drew up a list of tribal voters of Vansda constituency and then visited their homes to appraise them of the election process and request them to cast their vote. The Satipati “movement” is said to have been active in Gujarat prior to Independence but has been losing sheen since 1995. The tribal community has, through this movement, stayed aloof from government schemes and has resisted associating with the state administration. In 2012, the Election Commission launched a door-to-door campaign to encourage registration of these tribal people in the electoral rolls.
“The tribals follow their leader and are averse to the concept of a democratically elected government. They still use barter for trade and don’t deal in Indian currency. When I visited the polling booth, I learnt about them and decided to ensure that they participate in the electoral process. Therefore, I visited their homes and requested them to turn up and cast their votes,” Lande told The Indian Express. In his endeavor, Lande managed to get nine tribals to vote, including five women. “The number may not be that significant but the fact that they turned up and cast their vote is a beginning in the right direction. I am sure next year more numbers will turn up,” Lande said.
This is not the first time that this Bihar cadre IPS officer, who is on deputation to Maharashtra, and who is currently attached to the Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC) of the Mumbai Police, has helped voters to exercise their franchise in vulnerable areas. “In the 2009 Bihar Assembly poll, naxals had hoisted black flags and asked the locals not to participate in the elections. We reached the villages by the crack of dawn and requested people to come out and vote. They did so. That was more difficult than convincing members of the tribal community who are just following the orders of their leader and are not against the state,” added Lande.
“They were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a policeman with a rose. That just made the task easier and instilled confidence in them,” Lande says about his Gujarat experience. “Their warmth and innocence was my takeaway from the assignment,” he adds.