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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rajbar’s defeat from Dharchula a blow to Ban Rawat community

Pithoragarh, March 10
The Ban Rawat community that lives in the forests of Askot and Didihat has ended its 10-year tryst with power as Gagan Singh Rajbar, the lone MLA from the community, has failed to win from the Dharchula seat in this Assembly elections.
Two-time MLA Rajbar’s political fate changed after delimitation when Dharchula was declared a general seat.
The members of the Ban Rawat community numbering around 560 are considered to be descendants of the Kirats, who ruled the Himalayan region 2,500 years ago and went to live in forests after the Khasas arrived there. Rajbar was being sort after by people of the upper castes after the Dharchula seat was reserved for the tribal community as the latter wanted to block the entry of a Bhotia tribal into the Assembly. “When we were looking for a tribal youth other than from the Bhotia community, we had the lone option of a candidate belonging to the Ban Rawat community that lived in forests of the subdivision,” said BD Joshi, former block pramukh of Dharchula, who brought Rajbar to the political mainstream.
“When we brought Rajbar to the political mainstream, he was a daily wage labourer. He was just Class VIII pass but still was the most qualified among the Ban Rawat youth,” said Joshi.
Rajbar, who won the Assembly elections for the first time in 2002 and then in 2007, polled only 2,990 votes in this elections. He had polled 46 per cent votes in 2002 and 38 per cent in 2007, but this time he got only 6.3 per cent votes. “He finished fifth from the Dharchula seat this time as the candidates belonging to the general category stole the show. The population of voters belonging to the general category is nearly five times more than the tribals,” said Joshi. Though Rajbar had been an MLA from Dharchula having a population of 1.5 lakh for two terms, his elevation to the Legislative Assembly had failed to get rid the Ban Rawat community of perennial deprivation, as its members still lived in forests without farming. “The community members still work as agricultural labourers in neighbouring villages, sell fodder, firewood or make agricultural equipment to earn their livelihood,” said Hira Singh Bora, a former MLA who has been working for the tribals for the last 30 years.
Asked what he did for his community which was still living a life of deprivation, Rajbar cited his achievements claiming that he got BPL cards made for the members of the community to enable them to get cheap ration from the fair price shop. “As I was surrounded by non-tribal MLAs and there was no other MLA from the community in the Assembly, I could not get any special scheme approved for the uplift of my own people. I regret my failure in this regard,” said Rajbar.
The Ban Rawats are still to get dwelling rights under the Forest Rights Act passed by the Union government in 2006. They also have no fertile land for cultivation and their traditional occupation of wood crafts is facing a tough time due to the shortage of raw material. “The community had the opportunity of seeing development as one of its members was elected to the state Assembly for two terms. It could have been saved from perennial deprivation and lack of education. Rajbar could have secured jobs for the Ban Rawat youth, provided health facilities in forests where they lived and generated better living conditions for their children as the death rate among them was the highest in the district,” said Joshi.

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