A pilgrimage to vote: 3 km by boat, then 15 km by road
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A total of 177 voters, three of them more than 90 years old, had to travel three kilometres by boat and another 15 kilometres by road from their village of Aliya Bet, an island in Narmada river in Bharuch district, to reach the polling station in Karadra village of Vagra Assembly constituency to cast their votes on Thursday.
While the Election Commission (EC) had set up a full-fledged polling booth to enable a lone temple priest at Banej inside the Gir forests of Junagadh district to cast his vote, it failed to offer the same for Aliya Bet whose all 200-odd voters are Muslims.
If the Aliya Bet voters had avoided the water route, they would have had to travel at least 75 kilometres via Hansot, Ankleshwar and Bharuch to reach the polling booth.
The village is home to about 450 people, all engaged in animal husbandry for a living. Aliya Bet is located 22 kilometres away from Dahej, where the river Narmada falls into the Arabian Sea.
Ninety-year-old Ali Suleiman and 100-year-old Amina Ali Mohammed said they had been coming to Karadra village to cast their votes in every election since a polling station was never set up in their village.
Despite the odds, they said, about 90 per cent of the voters from their village had been casting their votes in every Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
First-time voters Mohammed Siddique (19) and Norr mohammed Ali (20), while feeling "empowered" by getting the right to vote, said, "Had the polling booth been in the village, it would have saved us time and money."
Meethabhai Mubinbhai Jat (55) and his wife Ayeshaben Meethabhai Jat of the same village said it was really difficult for the villagers to cast their votes. "Yet we go to vote. It strengthens democracy," they said.