“No matter how hard it would be, I’d be there to do the deed.”
That was the response of a friend...who never considered his wheelchair as a constraint when it comes to doing his duty when I asked him about the perils of voting.
I remember speaking to him during the 2009 general elections, when he said he had to reach the EVM with great difficulty.
That election was a revelation for me as it was the first polls after the Election Commission of India had acknowledged the need for persons with disability to participate in the electoral process and had allowed a few facilities such as Braille copies of candidate names.
On the election day, I rode an autorickshaw to a poll booth in the outskirts of Bangalore, from where someone had called us up to inform us that the visually challenged voters in the area were boycotting the elections due to lack of facilities to vote in privacy.
“We’re doing our best to ensure they could vote in private,” said the rather stunned booth officer, who hadn’t seen such a ruckus by persons with disability over their voting rights before.
At least one Assembly election in Karnataka had passed since that day, one in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and in states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat etc. And no doubt our friends have been posting their experiences of exercising their franchise in various forums. But there is this lingering feeling that persons with disability are still not getting out in large numbers to vote or projecting themselves as a solid voting segment. I’m deliberately avoiding the word “vote bank” probably because it doesn’t necessarily reflect the voters’ perspective or unity.
When it comes to myself and my family, we ensure we do everything possible to cast our votes, except when we are not in town or ill. The effort has become especially conscious as political parties work hard to woo different voting segments on the basis of caste, religion or economic status. Psephology and modern technology can now determine which segment of voters has propelled a particular candidate/party to power.
So this is perhaps the best time for persons with disability to consolidate themselves as a strong voting constituency in the country. With greater participation of persons with disability in various spheres of life, it is not only important but imperative to determine our rulers since I’m sure all of us know how bad it feels when people and government regress despite mammoth efforts to educate those in important positions and achieve crucial breakthroughs for the community. No matter how much good work a politician does, it only takes one bad election to undo it all.
So like the rural voter, urban voter, minority voter, OBC voter etc, there should be a voter with disability who should matter to those contesting at least in future elections.
NGOs out there, who take their advocacy and activism seriously, must work on programmes and strategies to mobilize persons with disability in voting age. We should have our own road shows, street side meetings and so on to ensure there is consensus on where our votes go, not to mention the visibility.
In this connection, a news item and a video clipping I happened to notice in this election season filled me with hope.
A report from Delhi claimed that persons with disability in the capital decided to back the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as the last chance to pass the Rights of Persons with Disability (RPD) Bill in Parliament.
However misplaced their hopes might be, there is a clear direction and determination on where their votes must go.
Similarly, one of the Tamil channels showed disturbing news footage of visually challenged persons being beaten up by police during an agitation with the message that “the differently abled should not be treated this way. If you want their aspirations to be fulfilled, think and vote for...” I didn’t mind turning the volume up.
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