JHAPA, June 7:Mangal Murmu of Bhadrapur-10 was elated when government announced local level elections after a hiatus of 19 years. But his excitement waned away after he heard false rumors and baseless claims about his community members making rounds. Murmu, who is one of the eldest residents of a squatter community laments that during every elections, he has been repeatedly asked the same question by members of other communities, “Is it true that political parties distributed money to members of your community?” he said.
He says such rumors surface during every election and that they have always harmed the dignity and self respect of the slum residents. It has always been a matter headache for the landless labors like Murmu who work day and night to earn square meals for their family. Their temper is tested every time they hear people claiming that they have taken money and participated in feasts offered by political parties.
But these rumors fade away as soon as the elections are over. The squatter community wishes for the elections to take place as soon as possible so that they don’t have to confront those rumors. According Murmu, though people talk behind their back, they never confront them face to face with such allegations.
“We have been used to such false accusations as they have always surface during every election,” said Murmu adding, “Political parties themselves spread these rumors. If they see any rival parties gaining popularity in our community they claim that the popularity is result of money and feasts.” In making such false claims, he said, political parties have been disrespecting slum residents and hurting their self esteem.
Ramesh Harijan of the same locality says many locals of his community are disappointed with the political party leaders and their cadres. With anger visible in his eyes at such political parties, Harijan said, “They are the ones who visit our homes joining their hands and with their heads bowing for votes. Later, the same people blame us for selling our votes to political parties for the sake of money and booze.” He claimed that leaders and cadres of political parties who loose elections spread such rumors in defending their defeat.
Hundreds of the slum residents living on the banks of Bering River of Kankai Municipality-8 have been affected by such baseless rumors, Harijan said. “During elections, politicians spend their day and nights in our slums but as soon as the elections are over, the winners never show up while the looser start circulating baseless accusations,” he said.
During the elections candidates of various political parties visit this community of landless people and offer hopes and promises which have been rarely fulfilled. They assure of employment, health facilities, and land registration certificate among others, Harijan said. Stating that their votes, like every voter across the country, are influenced by the pledges that a candidate makes, he said they have never voted for a candidate for the sake of monetary gains.
“Many of them dream of buying votes but at least they should not spread rumors of distributing money to us when they have not,” said Devendra Sanwa, another slum resident. “But the well offs believe in what they hear and ask us questions that insult us. We would like to tell them that we don’t need to spread our hands in front of anyone to survive. Whatever we earn through hard work is enough for us,” added Sanwa.
Political parties have been using the poor and marginalized communities as their vote banks, but never look back once they win, Sanwa said. Members of the squatter community live in huts constructed on unregistered land since decades.
Politicians use their poverty as a major election agenda and to win their votes, almost all of them, pledge to provide land to them, Sanwa said. But through the years, members of this community, have learned to scrutinize the election pledges of any candidate and support leaders and candidates that sound promising and trustworthy.
Some of the locals have expressed great dissatisfaction with the political leaders who are using the poor, destitute and marginalized communities as their stepping stones and ladder for fulfilling their vested interest. As per the squatters of Bering River, Bhadrapur, Mechinagar and Arjundhara, political parties have used them as goods.
“We have received numerous promises but have received nothing in reality,” said Sanwa of
Kankai-8 adding, “But now we have no hopes, if we find some really genuine candidates we will go for voting else we will stay at home.”
Squatters say that they have got nothing to do with the political parties or their ideologies when choosing a candidate to vote. What they consider while picking a candidate is their plan for developing the area. “Those candidates who are genuinely willing to usher development to our community will receive our votes,” said another member of squatter community Prem Kumar Lawati.
While the squatters have been lamenting of being insulted by political parties, Ek Raj Karki, former chair of the Landless Squatters Resolution Commission as well as leader of the CPN-UML denies such accusations. But he said that his party is willing to solve their problems. “Local unit has been really powerful now, so we are hopeful that problems faced by the squatters will be addressed,” he said. There are more than 22,000 landless squatters in Jhapa.