Daltonganj: Fifty-year-old Hasulal Topno has never seen an electronic voting machine (EVM).
The impoverished Oraon tribal, who gathers firewood from the forest outlying the Palamau Tiger Reserve, a Maoist hotbed 35 km from Daltonganj town, got his voter identity card two years ago. He had never been interested in the democratic process till an NGO intervened to give him constitutional legitimacy.
"This is the first time I will vote in my life and I am so excited," the malnourished tribal, a father a four, told a news service. "But I am scared of the voting machine. I heard from the villagers that people have to cast their votes in a machine. I am illiterate, so is my wife as well as my eldest son who is 19. We will all vote this year."
Topno and his family will attend an EVM demonstration-cum-poll awareness camp at Medininagar in the Daltonganj assembly segment Nov 23 and 30. "I will attend the first demonstration and my family the second," Topno said.
Nirmal Ho, a tribal and a marginal farmhand in the Chatarpur block of Palamau district, is more scared of the EVM than of the Maoists, who have clamped down an unwritten election boycott whip.
"Technology scares me. I have never been to school; neither have my forefathers," the elderly man told a news service. Ho will take a day off to attend an EVM demonstration in Chatarpur town Dec 6.
EVMs are still not a familiar sight in tribal Jharkhand, barring the urban pockets, because of inaccessibility, Maoist violence, illiteracy and poor awareness.
The district administration of Palamau - the cradle of an armed Maoist movement in undivided Bihar -- will host mass EVM and poll awareness camps across the blocks and circle headquarters from Nov 23 to Dec 8.
According to a district official, the objective is to educate the tribal and backward caste voters from remote areas, some of whom have never seen a voting machine, and to instil confidence in them.
"Villagers in far-flung areas and in areas outlying the Palamau wildlife reserve live in constant fear of the Maoists, who intimidate them. Many of them have never voted. The EVM awareness camp is a positive exercise to help reinforce faith in the democratic process. This time, the campaign is very organised and vigorous," Satyendra Sinha, a school teacher and social activist based in Daltonganj, told a news service.
Deputy Commissioner of Palamau Amitabh Kaushal, who is also chief polling officer, said in an official letter: "EVM demonstration and poll awareness camps will be held in all the five assembly assembly segments and even in the weekly `haats` and markets in phases from Nov 23."
He has instructed all development officers in the district to "mobilise the block administrations for the purpose". "Besides, we will also provide daily demonstration at the district headquarters for those who cannot attend the block camps," he said.
The five assembly constituencies include Panki, Daltonganj, Vishrampur, Chatarpur and Husainabad.
On Nov 16, the district administration of Garhwa, adjoining Palamau, conducted an EVM training-cum-demonstration camp.
Deputy Commissioner Vijay Kumar Singh said: "We need the support of all concerned to conduct a fair poll in this district and ensure the highest voter turnout."
In the Moosaboni block in East Singhbhum, a group of tribal daily wage earners working on a road project said that they would attend an EVM demonstration workshop in Ghatshila, the sub-divisional headquarters.
"Or else we will not be able to vote. Our women are scared of such complicated machines. The ballot papers were easy to understand. Earlier, someone would point out the symbols and we would vote. Technology is changing the world of the tribals. We need education," the head of the group, Subal Mahto, told a news service.