DAILEKH, May 12: The main leader of Raute community known as Mahamukhiya in the community, Manbahadur Shahi is very much excited with the local election. On Sunday, the country is set to conduct election in three provinces and Shahi wants to cast his vote to his preferred candidate. But the problem is, he cannot vote for anyone.
“We do not have this right. Why? We want the right to vote,” he shouted while this scribe met him in Thatikadh, Dailekh last week. “We know that elections are near. I have been talking to many people about it and saying that we Raute also want to cast vote,” he added.
Raute is a nomadic community and they hardly stay in one location for long. They follow their own culture, religion and lifestyle, which is very distinct. In lack of permanent address, members of this very small and rare community even don’t have citizenship. And this is the biggest hurdle for them to participate in election. Despite this all, they feel that the state should find a solution that addresses their concerns.
“We are provided social security allowance. Why can’t we be given the right to vote? We get Rs 2000 per person. Government provides that regularly,” stated Shahi.
Shahi is pretty clear why Raute want to cast their vote. “If we can cast our vote, we can ask elected representatives to address our concerns. But if we are deprived from voting we wont have the right to press for our concerns,” he said.
Suryanarayan Shahi, another Raute, also shared similar views. He stated that the government has been counting their population. “Government knows that there are 149 Raute and it regularly provides social security allowance. But why can’t it make provisions for us to vote in the election?” Suryanarayan questioned adding that out of the total around 100 of them are of voting age.
While asked how Raute could be part of a local body and cast vote when they are always on the go, the duo, stated that the excuse is not fair.
They said that their life has been intervened in several ways and their connection with local level should not be ignored.
They also argued that their community is not as nomadic as it used to be. Interestingly, the community was in Achham before coming to Dailekh.
“Earlier, we were able to leave one place and go to another when we willed. Now, it is not so. Jungles have been cut down our lifestyle has been continuously challenged. We don’t change our camps as frequently as we used to. We should be given the voting rights irrespective of how we live,” Manbahadur stressed.
A major concern of the Raute is which government organization would be availing their social security allowance in the days ahead.
“We have heard that the village development committee and district development committee will be dissolved after the election. Who will provide our social security allowance after that?” Suryanarayan asked.
The had received the allowance in Achham four months ago but when they approached the Dailekh’s District Development Office recently they were informed that they would get it only after the new local bodies come into existence after the elections.
“There is lack of firewood in jungles these days. We are not giving our allowance on time. We are living a miserable life,” Suryanarayan stated. “We are confused with who is going to provide us the allowance - the municipalities that going to replace the VDCs or some other bodies,” he added.
Since they do not have voting rights, political party leaders and cadres do not visit them, Raute lament.
Nobody asks them about their well being, reported Suryanarayan. “Our main concern is jungle and social security fund. That is our life line. We must be given right to cut trees for our livelihood and social security allowance on time to feed our family. But nobody is concerned about us as we don’t have voting rights.”
Another member of the community, Raute Birbahadur Shahi stated that depriving Raute of voting rights has made them feel like outsiders. In their own land, they cannot be forced to make feel so, he argued.
“We are worried. We are feeling marginalized. Now there will be new local government and when we do not vote, will it look after us in future?” he asked. “We are tired of sharing our grievances. To how many people are we supposed to tell our story?” he added.
Raute who keep roaming in Dailekh, Kalikot, Surkhet, Salyan, Dang and Accham are struggling with rapid urbanization and depleting forests.
According to Satyadevi Adhikari, president of the Raute Utthan Pratisthan (Raute Uplift Academy), Raute do not want to make citizenship card. But they could be given voting rights just the way they are provided with social security allowances.
“Raute community is very much interested in the local elections. They are anxious thinking about the way they would be treated by the new government if they don’t vote,” she said.