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Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 11:48 UK
Millions of Indians go to polls




As India begins its marathon election, the BBC's Prachi Pinglay meets one woman determined to vote despite the personal tragedy of her husband's suicide over debts - though her family is not so convinced by the democratic process.

Kamlabai Gudhe
Kamlabai Gudhe thinks that voting makes a difference

A sense of sadness hangs over Kamlabai Gudhe's village home in the western state of Maharashtra.

Lonsawli, near the town of Wardha, is one of the many villages in the Vidarbha region that have been stricken by rural suicides.

Kamlabai's husband, Palasram Gudhe, committed suicide in May 2006 due to financial pressures after he defaulted on loans following the failure of his crops.

Since then, Kamlabai, her son Bhaskar and his family have been holding out for better times.

They are getting ready to vote in the nearby polling station at Dorli. Kamlabai is excited about voting and clear that "you should not waste the right to vote, that's all we have".

Bhaskar Gudhe
There are 15 or 16 parliamentary candidates but no-one has come to a village like Lonsawli
Bhaskar Gudhe

Of Palasram's death, the 65-year-old says: "I will never understand why he took such an extreme step. Yes, he was tense but we would have pulled through somehow. I did not realise that he was so frustrated, I wouldn't have left him alone."

Palasram Gudhe secured a loan of about $600 some 10 years ago to build a well. With interest the amount due to be repaid was more than $2,000 and at the time of his death he had managed to raise about $200.

Nothing much has changed financially since Palasram's suicide. The terms for the compensation for his death mean the money cannot at present be used.

The family recently sold their cow as "she would eat a lot and hardly gave two litres of milk". A pair of oxen remain, but they have provided no respite from financial woes.

After crops failed this year they have had to work on other farmers' land to make ends meet.

Stoic

"Since my father's death, many authorities and media persons have spoken to us but what can anyone do? There are so many families like ours in this area. We can't complain [anymore than them] about our plight," Bhaskar says.

Map

Kamlabai is stoic, even funny at times, as she describes her work. "I have to walk nearly 2km (1.2 miles) from my home to where I work. But I can't do much when I get there, as my hands and feet are swollen by the time I arrive. But I have no choice. One has to do it for the children."

In her one-room house, one side of the mud walls needs urgent repairs.

Kamlabai's daughter-in-law Vanita prepares tea for everyone.

Her sons, Sahil, 10, and Prashil, six, run around with their friends before accompanying Kamlabai to the polling booth.

Vanita and Bhaskar are not as eager as Kamlabai to vote.

"The polling station is far away, we will have to walk in this sun. I [suppose] I will go after I finish housework, anyway does it make a difference whether we vote or not?" she asks. Most of the family agrees.

Vanita Gudhe
Vanita Gudhe is one of millions sceptical about the benefits of voting

"No-one has even come to our village to talk to us and find out what our problems are. There are 15 or 16 parliamentary candidates but no-one has come to a village like Lonsawli," Bhaskar says.

Kamlabai is not so downbeat. "We may get something by casting our votes," she smiles.

At the polling booth in Dorli, barely 40 voters out of a registered 464 have so far shown up.

It is a big room in a primary school with no fan and four election officers. People slowly trickle in.

"Maybe more will come once the sun goes down or after lunch, when women are ready to step out," says the election officer.

While Bhaskar discusses candidates and local politics - how village council [panchayat] elections are far more interesting than national polls - Kamlabai quietly finishes her voting and goes back home to be with her grandsons.



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