“Paper was accurate. With the machine you never know which button is being pressed, and who is getting the vote!”

So Kalmudin Ansari says he definitely prefers paper ballots over EVMs (electronic voting machines). A resident of Kumni village in Palamu, the 52-year-old is at the local maweshi (cattle) market, a white gamcha wrapped around his head as protection from the blistering April sun here in Jharkhand. The gamcha is a thin, coarse cotton cloth, traditionally used as a towel, a scarf, or even a turban; It's also a sartorial garment with adaptive qualities.

Kalmudin has walked 13 kilometres to this weekly cattle market at Pathar to sell his ox. “We need money,” he says.

Last year (2023), his paddy crop was completely ruined. He sowed mustard in the rabi season, but a third was lost to pests. “We harvested about 2.5 quintals. All of that went into paying off debts,” Kalmudin says.

A farmer, Kalmudin cultivates four bigha (almost three acres), and is reeling under multiple debts to local moneylenders. “ Bahut paisa le lewa le [They have taken a lot of money],” he says and also adds that the five rupees monthly interest for every hundred borrowed, is crippling, “I borrowed 16,000 rupees, now it's become 20,000, but I have only paid 5,000 of it.”

His only option now is to sell his ox. “ Isiliye kisan churmura jata hai. Kheti kiye ki bail becha gaya [This is why the farmer faces hardships. I practise agriculture and end up selling my ox], says Kalmudin who had hoped for rain in 2023.

PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla

Kalmudin Ansari, a farmer from Kumni village in Palamu, has walked 13 kilometres to the weekly cattle market in Pathar to sell his ox. The lack of rain and pest attacks ruined his paddy crop last year and he is reeling under multiple debts to local moneylenders

In Jharkhand, 70 per cent of farmers own less than a hectare of land. Almost all ( 92 per cent) of the cultivated land depends on rainfall, wells only accounting for a third ( 33 per cent) of  irrigation needs. Small farmers like Kalmudin are not taking any chances with their harvest, and borrow money for seeds and fertilisers.

So, in the coming General Elections 2024, he says that whoever arranges for irrigation in his village will get his vote. Living 1,000 kilometres from New Delhi, with neither a television nor a smartphone, he says he is unaware of the national news on electoral bonds.

At the market, after nearly three hours of negotiating with different customers, Kalmudin finally sold his ox for Rs. 5,000; he had been hoping to get Rs. 7,000.

After selling his ox, Kalmudin has two cows and a calf, and he is hoping to hang on to them while still providing for his family of seven. “We will vote for those who will do something for the farmers,” he says firmly.

The state has been badly hit by successive droughts: in 2022, almost the entire state – 226 blocks - was declared drought-affected. The next year (2023), 158 blocks faced drought.

PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla

Jharkhand, where almost all of the cultivable land depends on rainfall, has been hit by successive droughts in 2022 and 2023. Wells only account for one third of irrigation needs. So, Kalmudin says, whoever arranges for irrigation in his village will get his vote

Here in Palamu district, all 20 blocks had a rain deficit last year and so this year, the relief money pledged by the state – Rs.3,500 per farmer family – is a talking point for General Elections, as many are yet to receive it. “I gave money to fill out the drought relief form. I gave 300 rupees one year [2022] and 500 rupees the next [2023]. But I haven’t received anything yet,” says Sona Devi.

It's around noon and the temperature is a scorching 37 degrees Celsius here in Baranw village of Jharkhand. The 50-year-old Sona Devi is splitting wood with a chisel and a hammer. The wood is for cooking. After her husband, Kamesh Bhuiya suffered a paralytic stroke last year, Sona Devi has taken up this chore. The couple belong to the Bhuiya Dalit community and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

Kamesh says he campaigned for the sitting MLA Alok Chaurasiya in 2014, collecting over Rs. 6,000 rupees for his election campaign, but the lawmaker “hasn't visited our area even once in the last 10 years.”

Their two-room mud house looks out upon the 15 katha (roughly half an acre) of land they own. “For two years, there hasn't been any farming. Last year [2022], there was no water at all. This year [2023] there was a little rain, but the paddy nursery didn't grow well,” says Sona.

When this reporter posed a question on the General Elections to her, she shot back at him: “Who is asking us? Only during the time of voting, do they [politicians] come calling us ‘ didi [sister], bhaiya [brother] and chacha [paternal uncle]. After winning, they won't even recognise us.” Sona Devi is reeling under a Rs. 30,000 debt after two consecutive droughts and expenses for her husband's stroke. “We will vote for the party that will help us.”

Looking at this reporter she adds, “if you go [to meet the politicians], they will make you sit on a chair. To us, they will tell us to wait outside.”

PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla
PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla

Fields in Chianki village (left) in Palamu lie uncultivated due to a lack of water. Farmers used to grow wheat in the rabi season, but now, with the wells drying up, they are even running out of drinking water.  A canal (right) constructed around three years ago has remained dry ever since

PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla
PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla

Left: In Palamu's Baranw village, Sona Devi had filled out a drought relief form in 2023 for which she had to pay. She is yet to receive any money. 'Last year [2022], there was no water at all,' she says. Right : Malti Devi, her neighbour, received a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. ' We discuss the issues among other women in the village and then decide [collectively] who to vote for,' she says

Malti Devi, 45, is Sona’s neighbour and also a farmer. She cultivates a bigha (less than an acre) and also works as a farm labourer. “We used to get at least 15 quintals of rice only through bataiya [tenant farming] of other land, separate from ours [one bigha ]. This year we cultivated potatoes, but we didn’t get enough to sell in the market,” she adds.

A happy recipient of a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, she says the allotment has made her switch to voting for Modi from panja chap , the election symbol of the Congress party. “We discuss the issues among other women in the village and then decide [collectively] who to vote for. Some of us need a hand pump, some need a well, some need a colony. Whoever fulfils these, we will vote for them,” she adds.


“Pulses, wheat, rice, everything is expensive,” says Asha Devi, a resident of Palamu’s Chianki village. The couple are in their thirties and have six children; husband Sanjay Singh, 35, works as a labourer. The family belong to the Chero tribe – one of the 32 scheduled tribes in Jharkhand. “In a good agriculture season, we would have enough food for two years. Now, same thing we are buying,” she adds.

However, when asked if she would vote on issues such as inflation and drought, Asha Devi responds saying, “log kahata hai ki badi mahangayi hai kuch nahi kar rahe hai Modi ji. General humlog to usi ko abhi bhi chun rahe hai. [People say there's a lot of inflation, Modi ji isn't doing anything. But we're still choosing him],” she firmly told this reporter. She also said that they can only manage to send one child to private school, paying a fee of Rs. 1,600.

In the 2019 General Elections, Bhartiya Janta Party's Vishnu Dayal Ram secured victory with 62 per cent of the total votes. He won against Rashtriya Janata Dal's Ghuran Ram. This year, Vishnu Dayal Ram is once again the BJP candidate, while Rastriya Janata Dal is yet to announce their candidate. The constituency has over 18 lakh voters.

Besides inflation, drought is a real concern. “People here have to think about water even for drinking. Many wells in the villages are dry. The hand pump releases water very late,” says Asha Devi and, “since the canal was built, there has never been water in it.”

PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla
PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla

Left: Asha Devi, a resident of Chianki, runs a general store in the village while her husband works as a daily wage labourer. 'Pulse, wheat, rice, everything is expensive,' she says. Right: Surendra Chaudhary, a farmer from Baranw, has come to the cattle market to sell his cow

PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla
PHOTO • Ashwini Kumar Shukla

Amrika Singh, a resident of Chianki village, has incurred a loss of three lakh rupees in the last two years. His well (right) dried up this year. ' Who cares about the farmer? Look at how much the farmers have protested, demanding fair prices, yet nothing has changed,' he says

Her neighbour and fellow tribesman, Amrika Singh incurred a loss of Rs. three lakhs in the last two years. He says, “earlier, even if nothing else, we could still grow vegetables. But this year, my well has dried up.”

Like other farmers across Palamu, Amrika also highlighted the water scarcity in the region. “Without water, there is no meaning to agriculture. How much farming can we do with water from the well.”

The Mandal Dam on the North Koel river was supposed to help. “Leaders just make empty promises. Modi said in 2019 that a gate would be installed in the Mandal Dam. If it was installed, there would have been a water supply,” says Amrika Singh. “Who cares about the farmer? Look at how much the farmers have protested, demanding fair prices, yet nothing has changed. The government favours Adani and Ambani, waiving their loans. But what about the farmer?”

“Look, right now it's the BJP government. Whatever little we're receiving, it's because of them. Suppose they haven't done anything, then the other party hasn't done anything either,” says farmer Surender. He brushes off issues of electoral bonds and unemployment saying, “those are issues for the big people. We aren't that educated… The biggest problem in Palamu district is irrigation. Farmers here are desperate for water.”

Surender owns five bigha (3.5 acres) of land in Palamu’s Baranw village and depends on the rain to cultivate. “People sit and gamble. We gamble in farming.”
Ashwini Kumar Shukla

Ashwini Kumar Shukla is a freelance journalist based in Jharkhand and a graduate of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (2018-2019), New Delhi. He is a PARI-MMF fellow for 2023.

Other stories by Ashwini Kumar Shukla
Editor : Priti David

Priti David is the Executive Editor of PARI. She writes on forests, Adivasis and livelihoods. Priti also leads the Education section of PARI and works with schools and colleges to bring rural issues into the classroom and curriculum.

Other stories by Priti David