After walking through hilly terrain for about 45 minutes and climbing 200 steps near Thurbo Tea Garden, 18-year-old Swadiksha, a first-time voter, voted at Thurbo Prathamik Pathshala in Mirik to elect a candidate of his choice for the
Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), whose vote took place on Sunday.
Swadiksha is voting for a steady supply of clean water and electricity and a road to her village, among other things, she told The Indian Express. “Can you imagine that at a time when people are thinking of buying land on Mars and the Moon, we don’t have electricity and water for our village,” said Swadiksha, a student from class 12 who lives in the Thurbo Tea Estate. located at an altitude ranging from 3,220 to 8,010 feet, in the town of Mirik in the district of Darjeeling.
“Furthermore, no government thinks of young people. There is no job opportunity for them. Tourism is there, but our village is too far from tourist places. People come here for sightseeing and come back after a few hours,” she lamented.
This polling station recorded a participation of 54% until 2:48 p.m. “There are 819 registered voters in this voting booth and 443 have voted so far,” said Arvind Rai, the president.
When the GTA poll was underway, The Indian Express visited several villages and gram panchayats and interacted with a wide range of voters.
Another first-time voter, Sukaj Tamang, 18, a student at a local school in Simana village, also complained that “no political party takes seriously the issues facing young people”. “I haven’t met any GTA candidate with a vision for the well-being and growth of young people, such as creating job opportunities for them and providing better education infrastructure. After graduating here, young people go in search of a better opportunity or wander here and there with no job in hand,” Tamang said.
Soon, some young people from the village of Simana, located on the edge of Indian territory bordering Nepal, joined Tamang.
“We are tired of being duped by politicians in the name of a separate state. Tourism is limited in and around Darjeeling town. Some tourists cross our village on their way to Mirik, that too for a few minutes. There is no development at all in our village. There is no drinking water supply, no dispensary and only a few teachers in the primary school. Even mobile networks are not working properly. We want change and development in the real sense,” said
Minju Serpa and Kundan Khaws, both first-time voters.
Several polling stations in Darjeeling and Kurseong were located in isolated areas with limited facilities, some of them even lacking mobile connectivity. A few were located in forest or semi-forest areas.
The forest village of Balasan, located in the middle of a forest area at an altitude of almost 6,000 feet and about 5 kilometers from Ghum station, has a total of 507 registered voters, but only 178 had voted until ‘At 11 o’clock.
“Up to 11 a.m., 178 people have voted. It is relatively low. If the weather remains clear, we hope the turnout will improve,” President Binay Deep Tamang said at the polling station of the primary school in Balasan Bhanjyang forest village.
Most of the inhabitants of this village are workers and live from agriculture. The villagers accused the administration and the government of indifferent treatment. Angry at breaking promises made
by the government and local politicians, Rajni Bhutiya chose not to vote.
“I will not vote. What is the benefit of voting when no one even comes to see what state we live in here,” Bhutiya said.
Usha Bhutiya, 52, also criticized the local administration and government for their nonchalant attitude towards villages in the district.
“Darjeeling and Kurseong are tourist spots so we have developed homestay but people hardly visit. Why would they come here? There is no tourist area here. We have a “Hawaghar of the British era, but it is destroyed due to government apathy. If the government restores it and declares it a heritage site, and creates tourist sites in our village to attract tourists, our lives will be a little more easy.
Even during peak season when no hotel is available in Darjeeling, we only get 40-45 tourists,” a 60-year-old man said.
Although the vote remained peaceful, many chose not to vote.