Prem Prakash Khalko and wife Lona flaunt their ID cards at Bero, while Mangra Oraon eats lunch at his home in Lohardaga after casting his vote on Thursday. Pictures by Prashant Mitra
Lohardaga, April 10: Amid the colourful media hype surrounding first-time voters, concerns of senior citizens turn sepia in comparison.
But the pleasure of 82-year-old retired primary schoolteacher Prem Prakash Khalko, who showed black ink on his index finger today “after a gap of decades”, warmed the cockles of every heart.
With wife Lona, 75, by his side, Khalkho turned up at booth No. 171 at 8.30am at Rajkiyakrit Madhya Vidyalaya building behind Bero thana in tribal-dominated Lohardaga seat.
Khalkho doesn’t recall the last time he voted, he says. “I don’t know what happened. When I am in service, I would always be put on election duty that denied me the chance to vote. Post-retirement, my name never fared on the voter list,” he said.
Initially, Khalkho used to run after local officials to get his name on the rolls. “Slowly, I lost faith in voting seeing the way government machinery behaved. This time, however, I found my name in the list, surprisingly. Local officers also came to us last night requesting my wife and me to vote. We can’t deny the right we have for the betterment of our children,” Khalkho said.
Migration and unemployment of young villagers are big concerns for the elderly.
On the Ranchi-Lohardaga border, Bero once used to be under the grip of Naxalites. Now, it is a mixed bag, with some pockets more prosperous than others. Urban symbols such as cyber cafes, shops of stationery, jewellery and clothes, among others, are visible in upmarket areas.
Interiors remain as poor as ever with basics such as regular water and electricity supply yet-to-reach dreams.
Lona, an illiterate grandmother, voted after a decade. “Vote nai denge toh gaon kaise sudhrega. Fir Naxali aajaega. (If I won’t vote how will my village improve. Naxalites will return),” she said.
Whom did they vote for? Khalkho didn’t say.
Lona smiled and said her husband had asked her to keep quiet till results were out.
Some 50km from Bero, a tangle of bumpy kutcha roads lead to Kharki panchayat, Kisko village. Tucked deep inside Lohardaga jungles, Kisko is “highly-sensitive” in bureaucratic parlance.
Kisko resident Sumri Oraon, 85, today insisted on being bodily hoisted upon a chair to go to her booth 2km away. “I wasn’t getting my old-age pension. That’s why I wanted to vote,” she said.
She doesn’t know about the local MLA or MP. Hardly anyone visited her village. How did she choose her candidate? “Babu, chunav ke bad to achha sarkar ayega na (Will a good government come after election)?” she asked The Telegraph.
Her elderly daughter Sukhiya Devi said: “All our family members today voted together for a common candidate.”
Mangra Oraon, 80, had his lunch at home after casting his vote. Oraon worked as a daily wage labourer in Calcutta till a decade ago and had missed many elections. “I am an illiterate, but I understand the problems of my village as I have come back after working in the city,” he said.
“Kaam ka bahut dikkat hai hai (Jobs are tough to get here),” he said. “One of my six sons went to work outside the state and never returned,” he added, indicating how unsafe migration is for the poorest of Indians.