Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This man gets his very own ballot box.

14 Apr 2009, 1018 hrs IST, AFP

AHMEDABAD: Only one of India's 714 million eligible voters can be sure he will not have to queue up to vote in elections that start this week.
Bharatdas Darshandas

Bharatdas Darshandas talks on his mobile phone. (AFP Photo)

Bharatdas Darshandas knows there will be no wait because he has his very own ballot box.

The Hindu priest lives a life of solitude in a lion sanctuary in a remote corner of Gujarat, but he is determined to have his say on who governs the country after the nationwide polls close on May 13.

It is not easy enabling Darshandas to exercise his democratic right, with three polling officials and two police men lugging an electronic voting machine over a river and sand dunes that cars cannot cross.

"I am sorry that the officials have to walk for hours to seek my vote but every single vote counts in democracy. Casting my vote is very precious to me," he said by telephone.

Living in a small temple deep in the forest for more than a decade, Darshandas, 58, has a list of concerns that he wants the government to tackle.

"There is no electricity, running water or access to healthcare here. I have to walk for two hours to reach the nearest village," he said. "Sometimes, lions come and sit outside my house. All I can do is wait for them to leave."

Darshandas lives off donations from pilgrims who come to visit his temple in the 1,400 square kilometre (540 square mile) Gir sanctuary, where a few hundred Asiatic lions survive, despite the threat of poachers.

He is also given food by the pastoral Maldhari community, who live in the protected forest area but do not have voting rights due to a row over their legal status.

In return, he teaches their children about Hindi religious scriptures.

"It is because of our vigil that the lions are safe. The pastoral community keep an eye on every movement within the forest but they have not been given the right to vote," he said.

At least six of the endangered lions were poached in 2007 for bones, used in traditional Chinese medicines, and for their claws, to make amulets.

The priest has received an unexpected burst of attention since he was mentioned by the head of the election commission at the official declaration of the election dates in March.

Since then, Darshandas, who keeps track of politics by listening to news on the radio, has been hailed in the national media as a "lion among voters" who personifies India's proud commitment to the democratic process.

Now he is preparing to cast his ballot on April 30, when it is Gujarat's turn to vote.

"No politician has ever come to meet me. A single vote might not be of great importance to them but it is my duty to cast it," he said.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Heads-and-Tales/This-man-gets-his-very-own-ballot-box/articleshow/4398678.cms

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