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India's tribal women see little hope in Lok Sabha elections

Updated : May 13, 2019 11:56 AM IST

For years they've been told about the power they can wield with their votes, and how elections can bring so much change to this sprawling, often-chaotic nation. But few of these women, marooned at the fringes of Indian society, believe such talk anymore. They've been hardened by decades of forgotten promises, and by the countless politicians who showed up before elections with flowery words only to disappear as soon as the votes were cast. As India heads toward the end of its seven-phase national election, with voting that began April 11 and ends May 19, it's hard for them to summon much optimism. These voters already face immense hurdles in a nation where women are often relegated to second-class roles. But they are also tribals — India's term for the vast range of indigenous people of South Asia. They are Gaddis, herders who have spent centuries taking sheep and goats through the mountains of north India in search of good pastures, and Mishings, who live in elevated bamboo homes on Majuli, a huge island in the Brahmaputra River. They are the Dongria Kondh, an 8,000-strong tribe who considers the mineral-rich Niyamgiri hills sacred, and Mizos, who trace their ethnic roots back to what is now Myanmar and China. The biggest worry for many tribals is losing their land, which has grown increasingly valuable in recent years as India's economy has boomed. Many Warlis, for instance, are facing the threat of relocation by the government to housing projects. More fear being forced to move.

A Karbi tribal woman Among Kleng, 62, smiles for a photograph at a market in Sonapur, east of Guwahati, India. Kleng says no elected leaders listen to their problems but she cast her vote in the hope of a better future. Combined, India's tribals total more than 100 million people. But they are scattered among hundreds of communities and are often poorer and less educated than the people around them.  May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Karbi tribal woman Among Kleng, 62, smiles for a photograph at a market in Sonapur, east of Guwahati, India. Kleng says no elected leaders listen to their problems but she cast her vote in the hope of a better future. Combined, India's tribals total more than 100 million people. But they are scattered among hundreds of communities and are often poorer and less educated than the people around them.  May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Gaddi tribal woman Kanta Devi, 57, sits in an open space next to her house in Naddi village in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Kanta has been voting with her husband Jai Shankar since her marriage 40 years ago. She and her husband, who is a daily-wage worker, recently had to help their son-in-law, who was seriously ill. Their requests to the local officials for financial support went unanswered. They are bitter about it but she says that they will vote as it is their duty. April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
A Gaddi tribal woman Kanta Devi, 57, sits in an open space next to her house in Naddi village in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Kanta has been voting with her husband Jai Shankar since her marriage 40 years ago. She and her husband, who is a daily-wage worker, recently had to help their son-in-law, who was seriously ill. Their requests to the local officials for financial support went unanswered. They are bitter about it but she says that they will vote as it is their duty. April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
A Gaddi tribal woman Urmila Devi, 39, feeds her cow Rashi in Naddi village in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Devi says she’ll vote, but only because she believes it’s her duty. She says she’d love to see a childcare center and a medical clinic built in her village but doesn’t expect either will be erected. April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
A Gaddi tribal woman Urmila Devi, 39, feeds her cow Rashi in Naddi village in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Devi says she’ll vote, but only because she believes it’s her duty. She says she’d love to see a childcare center and a medical clinic built in her village but doesn’t expect either will be erected. April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
A Gaddi tribeswoman Nirmala Devi, 45, weeds her barley field in her village in Naddi, near Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. For years they’ve been told about the power they can wield with their votes, and how elections can bring so much change to this sprawling, often-chaotic nation. But few of these women, marooned at the fringes of Indian society, believe such talk anymore. Nirmala says she will vote but has little expectations from politicians who never keep their campaign promises. April 9, 2019 (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
A Gaddi tribeswoman Nirmala Devi, 45, weeds her barley field in her village in Naddi, near Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. For years they’ve been told about the power they can wield with their votes, and how elections can bring so much change to this sprawling, often-chaotic nation. But few of these women, marooned at the fringes of Indian society, believe such talk anymore. Nirmala says she will vote but has little expectations from politicians who never keep their campaign promises. April 9, 2019 (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
An indigenous Naga tribal woman Tungshang Ningreichon holds a Naga flag and speaks to the Associated Press in New Delhi, India. Ningreichon, a longtime rights activist, says she believes the election “affects every part of our lives. The leaders that we choose will greatly impact how we put the idea of peace, justice, and democracy into practice,” she said. “So for me, these elections are really important.” May 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
An indigenous Naga tribal woman Tungshang Ningreichon holds a Naga flag and speaks to the Associated Press in New Delhi, India. Ningreichon, a longtime rights activist, says she believes the election “affects every part of our lives. The leaders that we choose will greatly impact how we put the idea of peace, justice, and democracy into practice,” she said. “So for me, these elections are really important.” May 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
A Mishing tribal woman Jonmoni Mili, 30, makes a fire inside her house in the river island of Majuli, Assam. Mili said it makes no difference who wins the elections but that she is uneducated and wants her daughter to get an education. April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Mishing tribal woman Jonmoni Mili, 30, makes a fire inside her house in the river island of Majuli, Assam. Mili said it makes no difference who wins the elections but that she is uneducated and wants her daughter to get an education. April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Padumi Miri, 32, a Mishing tribal woman feeds her pig in the river island of Majuli, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. Miri said she does not know why she casts her vote nor has she ever seen a political leader in her life. She only knows she needs to vote every five years. April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Padumi Miri, 32, a Mishing tribal woman feeds her pig in the river island of Majuli, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. Miri said she does not know why she casts her vote nor has she ever seen a political leader in her life. She only knows she needs to vote every five years. April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
An Adi tribal woman Kinya Bagra, 33, stands for a photograph in Along, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Bagra says she will cast her vote for the development of her village. She hopes the newly elected leader will provide free education for women. March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
An Adi tribal woman Kinya Bagra, 33, stands for a photograph in Along, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Bagra says she will cast her vote for the development of her village. She hopes the newly elected leader will provide free education for women. March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A 100-year-old Lambada tribal woman Moti, sits in front of her home in Hyderabad, India. May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
A 100-year-old Lambada tribal woman Moti, sits in front of her home in Hyderabad, India. May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
An Adi tribal woman Kargep Yao, 36, stands for a photograph in Along, Arunachal Pradesh. Yao said that she will cast her vote for a better future, development and security for women. March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
An Adi tribal woman Kargep Yao, 36, stands for a photograph in Along, Arunachal Pradesh. Yao said that she will cast her vote for a better future, development and security for women. March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A 65-year-old Indian Lambada tribal women Rukali stands in front of her home on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India. Rukali says she has voted twice in her lifetime but that the government does not do any work for her village. May 7, 2019. (AP Photo/ Mahesh Kumar A.)
A 65-year-old Indian Lambada tribal women Rukali stands in front of her home on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India. Rukali says she has voted twice in her lifetime but that the government does not do any work for her village. May 7, 2019. (AP Photo/ Mahesh Kumar A.)
A Warli tribeswoman Suvama Suresh Parasram, 48, stands for a photograph outside her shack at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. “I work as a maid and help my family. The most basic thing we need is a toilet - to defecate in the open is very scary, not because of wild animals but because of people. So most of the time we go in small groups. We wish we could have a toilet one day,
A Warli tribeswoman Suvama Suresh Parasram, 48, stands for a photograph outside her shack at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. “I work as a maid and help my family. The most basic thing we need is a toilet - to defecate in the open is very scary, not because of wild animals but because of people. So most of the time we go in small groups. We wish we could have a toilet one day," she said. March 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
A Warli tribeswoman B. Nariyan Vignaya, 70, carries water after collecting it from a public tap at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, India. “I don’t remember how long I’ve been voting for different candidates hoping that life will be smooth for us once the right person is elected,” she said. “Our demands are not big; they are very small. We don’t want them to make big hospitals or buildings. We just want toilets. We go in a group if we have to defecate. We are afraid of humans attacking us, not wild animals.
A Warli tribeswoman B. Nariyan Vignaya, 70, carries water after collecting it from a public tap at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, India. “I don’t remember how long I’ve been voting for different candidates hoping that life will be smooth for us once the right person is elected,” she said. “Our demands are not big; they are very small. We don’t want them to make big hospitals or buildings. We just want toilets. We go in a group if we have to defecate. We are afraid of humans attacking us, not wild animals." March 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Sangeetha Nandini, 29, from the Warli tribe, combs the hair of her cousin at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai.
Sangeetha Nandini, 29, from the Warli tribe, combs the hair of her cousin at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. "They want to move us out of the forest and into buildings. Our forefathers have lived here and died here, so we want the same right. Moving us into buildings means keeping us in cages,” she said. The biggest worry for many tribals is losing their land, which has grown increasingly valuable in recent years as India’s economy has boomed. Many Warlis, for instance, are facing threat of relocation by the government to housing projects. March 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Bum Nongrum, 91, smokes a beedi, tobacco rolled in an indigenously available leaf, at her house in Nongpoh, in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya. Nongrum says she does not understand the concept behind exercising her franchise but has always cast her vote. May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Bum Nongrum, 91, smokes a beedi, tobacco rolled in an indigenously available leaf, at her house in Nongpoh, in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya. Nongrum says she does not understand the concept behind exercising her franchise but has always cast her vote. May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Khasi tribal woman Lona Syngkli carries firewood in a basket swung around her head in Nongpoh, in Meghalaya state, India. Syngkli says she knows nothing about politics but cast her vote because her husband told her to. As women, these voters already face immense hurdles in a nation where women are often relegated to second-class roles. But they are also tribals, India's term for the vast range of indigenous people of South Asia. May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Khasi tribal woman Lona Syngkli carries firewood in a basket swung around her head in Nongpoh, in Meghalaya state, India. Syngkli says she knows nothing about politics but cast her vote because her husband told her to. As women, these voters already face immense hurdles in a nation where women are often relegated to second-class roles. But they are also tribals, India's term for the vast range of indigenous people of South Asia. May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Karbi tribal woman Aloti Tumung, 65, carries vegetables on her shoulder at a marketplace in Sonapur, east of Guwahati, India. Tumung said she voted in the current general elections because it is part of her rights. She says she is also anxious that failing to exercise her franchise may result in her losing citizenship. May 11, 2019 (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Karbi tribal woman Aloti Tumung, 65, carries vegetables on her shoulder at a marketplace in Sonapur, east of Guwahati, India. Tumung said she voted in the current general elections because it is part of her rights. She says she is also anxious that failing to exercise her franchise may result in her losing citizenship. May 11, 2019 (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Karbi tribal woman Lisia Ingti, 50, speaks to the Associated Press near a market in Sonapur, east of Guwahati, India. Ingti said she does not believe in exercising her franchise because the people in her village do not even have basic rights. There are no school teachers and no road connectivity that can enable them to reach a polling station. She did not cast her vote in the ongoing general elections. May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Karbi tribal woman Lisia Ingti, 50, speaks to the Associated Press near a market in Sonapur, east of Guwahati, India. Ingti said she does not believe in exercising her franchise because the people in her village do not even have basic rights. There are no school teachers and no road connectivity that can enable them to reach a polling station. She did not cast her vote in the ongoing general elections. May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
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