Reported by Simanchal Pattnaik
Phulbani, Mar 7 :
There are apprehensions that thousands of voters across Kandhamal, Boudh, Ganjam and Nayagarh districts may not cast their votes in the coming elections – not because they want to boycott polls, but because they would be busy with the annual Danda Yatra when the state goes to polls on April 10 and 17.
A number of die-hard Shiva devotees in Kandhamal are unsure about their participation in the general elections to the Lok Sabha and state assembly because it coincides with the Danda Yatra which marks the end of one agricultural cycle and the beginning of another. The festival involves vows of celibacy, special dietary restrictions and pious conduct for the period of the festival,that lasts up to 21 days.
The men, who join local groups of between 50 and 150 members or ‘bhaktas’, inflict severe bodily punishment on themselves during the festival to appease Lord Shiva and seek his blessings.
There are 150 to 200 of such groups across Ganjam, Kandhamal, Boudh and Nayagarh, sources said.
Local Danda Nata groups say they may have to forego the opportunity to vote because they are not supposed to touch people outside their groups during the penance period.
“ First of all, leaving the group to cast votes is not a good idea. Secondly, when we stand in a queue at the polling booth we run the risk of touching others,” a local Danda Nata group leader told OST.
“ We hope the Election Commission makes special arrangements for the Danda Nata groups to help them take part in voting,” said another.