A village fights back- The story of one village’s battle for road in the 21st century

Tanung Siram and Ponung Tamuk remember the old days.

Tanung Siram and Ponung Tamuk remember the old days.

Best friends Tanung Siram and Ponung Tamuk, both in their eighties, talk to each other and soak in the sun. “I don’t remember the first time I voted,” Siram says.

Reminiscing about his days at the community dormitory for young Adi boys, called the musup, Siram feels that everyone has forgotten his village, Sissen.

“The other places nearby have all seen development but our village has remained where it was 60 years ago,” Siram says, as Tamuk, the quieter of the two, nods in agreement.

The tiny village of Sissen — with just 20 households and around three hours’ journey away from the East Siang district headquarters of Pasighat in India’s north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh — decided to boycott the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections on April 9 in protest against the lack of development.
The bridge over the Siang that connects the village to the world outside.

The bridge over the Siang that connects the village to the world outside.

Apart from a rickety hanging bamboo bridge, there is no direct road leading to the village from the nearest highway. When polling officials tried to enter the village on April 9, they found themselves unable to cross the Siang because villagers had damaged a part of the hanging bridge.

The state election commission announced its plans to try and hold fresh polls in Sissen and also to conduct repolling in 33 other polling stations across four districts today.

A compromise was reached to allow election officials to set up a polling station in the village. While the villagers did not try to obstruct polling officials from doing their duty, they did not budge from their stand either.

There are 140 voters in the village but nobody pressed the electronic voting machines (EVMs) though the polling officials said they could also exercise the None of the Above (NOTA) option.

“For 37 years we have been hearing promises from politicians,” complains Tajir Siram, the president of the Sissen Welfare Society which is spearheading the “no road, no vote” movement.

Angered by the FIR that was lodged against the protesters who had damaged the bridge on April 9, Siram says, “The laws don’t apply to the rich. Why should we be forced to vote?”

The sentiment reverberates across the village with almost all residents going about their daily routine donning handmade paper caps with the words “bedang kamang, votekamang (no road, no vote)” written on them.

Adi women doing the Ponung dance wearing the 'no road, no vote' caps.

Adi women doing the Ponung dance wearing the ‘no road, no vote’ caps.

Taget Siram, a former autorickshaw driver in Pasighat now making his living as a farmer, says the villagers will not budge from their stand.

“We will boycott the 2019 elections if roads are not built by then either,” he says.

“After all, we are also a part of India. Development should take place across the country and not just in some select areas,” he says.

The deputy commissioner, Nidhi Srivastava, says the villagers’ demand is genuine but is quick to add that they could have opted for the NOTA option.

Tayin Nonang, the gaonburah or village chief, is dismayed by the lack of political will to bring change in the area. “As our votes don’t seem to matter to the government, we might as well stay away from the elections,” he says.

Nonang also clarifies that the decision to boycott the polls was a collective one.

The unanimity of the decision is made abundantly clear by Milo Siram, a Class II student who proudly says that he studies at an English medium school in the nearby Pangin village. Wearing one of the “no road, no vote” caps while he plays carom with his friends, young Milo appears visibly excited.

When asked if he has any idea what the commotion all around the village is about, Milo, who probably has to wait another 10 years before he is eligible to vote, says, “bedang kamang, vote kamang”.

This story was first published in The Telegraph in April 2014. Link to original story: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140420/jsp/northeast/story_18258615.jsp#.VexPRvmqqkp


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