Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Democracy for whom?

I had written a recent post (see http://differentstrokes-vss.blogspot.in/2013/09/just-another-way-we-are-eliminated.html in this blog) but the enclosed email doing the rounds in my `PwD' circles says this much more emphatically:





_Election Commission of India_

   Nirvachan Sadan,
   Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110001




 No citizen of this country can be denied the right to vote.

Yet, even as Delhi hails an impressive voter turn- out and calls it a
‘historic’ poll, the truth is that wheel chair users or visually
impaired voters were effectively sought to be disenfranchised in this
election. This is not only a matter of deep shame but a complete
violation of Supreme Court orders.

Just a day before Delhi went to polls we marked the _International
Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3rd 2013_. This was an
occasion to renew our commitments to full inclusion and access, yet
one day later India and Delhi violated this very promise.

We would like to remind the nation and the Election Commission of
India that Delhi has 80,000 disabled voters. Yet, there was no
information in print, television or radio on facilities for visually
impaired voters or wheel chair users. Moreover, the website of
Election Commission of India remains inaccessible to visually impaired
persons. Do the voting rights of Indian citizens depend on their
different abilities – whether mobility or sight?

Given below are a few examples of what has clearly been a widespread
violation of the rights of differently abled voters across Delhi:

·      West Rajouri Garden Polling booth number 138 had no
ramps for wheelchairs and no braille stickers Dr. Anita Ghai, who uses
a wheel chair could not reach the booth, but because she stood there
protesting, she was lifted by the NDTV team as well as authorities and
taken to the booth. The desire and determination was simply to vote,
because to _not_ vote would go against her democratic and feminist

·      Mr. Virender Kalra, a bank manager and a resident of
Subhash Nagar, found there was no ramp for his wheelchair, so he got
two persons to lift him and take him inside the polling booth.

·      Polling booths number 11, 12,13, 14 in Rajokri had no
ramps and braille stickers.

·      Polling booth 13 in Rajokri had 7 stairs, again with no

·      Abha Khetrapal  , a wheelchair user   could not cast
her vote.

·      Shivani Gupta (Booth no. 23 in 45 Mehrauli) could not
cast her vote. She described her experience -  ‘Yesterday I went to
cast my vote for the Delhi assembly elections. This was the third time
I had gone to cast my vote, but in terms of accessibility nothing had
improved in so many years except there was a ramp. Having a ramp alone
is not a solution to enable persons using wheelchairs to vote. I
wasn’t able to cast my vote in spite of this ramp for the reasons
described below. 1) The route to reach the ramp was inaccessible. It
was a long uneven route difficult to negotiate for a wheelchair user.
2) The entry gate to the school had only the wicket gate open with a
baton in the bottom at the height of 8 cm restricting wheelchair
access. 3) The security did not have the key to be able to open the
main gate. 4)  The voting room entrance doors had wooden poles to
divide the way to enter and exit the room. This division made the
clear space to enter or exit the room very narrow for a wheelchair
user to pass

·      Neeru Gautam, tried to cast her vote by taking her power
chair all the way to the polling station in Block 26 Community Centre.
She realised there was no ramp to enter and the entrance to the room
was also blocked by a wooden pole which had been placed in the middle
of the passage to segregate the incoming and leaving voters. She asked
the election staff to come out and help her cast her vote. But despite
repeated pleas, no one came forward. Then one person offered to lift
her physically, which she refused as she felt it was humiliating and
undignified, and came back without casting her vote.

For a person using a wheel chair, being physically lifted in this
manner is deeply humiliating. And yet, many disabled voters, like Mr.
Kalra and Dr. Anita Ghai, subjected themselves to this humiliation, as
a determined act of citizenship, to make their voice count in our
democracy. Others, similarly placed, did not or could not.

In the case of Dr. Anita Ghai, there was proof of this violation,
merely because an NDTV camera crew, which had gone to cover a
celebrity voting, coincidentally happened to be present at the time
that she was trying to cast her vote, and so Dr. Anita Ghai was
allowed, albeit in a humiliating manner, to exercise her franchise. In
other instances, there is oftentimes no ‘proof’ that is demanded
by the system, before it accepts or corrects its failures.

We must worry that if this is the situation in the nation’s capital,
how grave the situation will be elsewhere, across the country, in
smaller towns and cities and in rural areas.

The Election Commission is duty bound to ensure that each and every
citizen can cast his or her vote. They ought to have implemented full
access to differently abled citizens to polling booths and publicized

We demand:

§  The Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral
Officer, Delhi issue an immediate written and public apology to all
differently abled voters who were unable to cast their vote in the
Delhi election due to lack of facilities enabling them to do so.

§  The Election Commission of India to issue orders, and give
written assurances that all facilities for the visually impaired and
wheel chair bound citizens shall be provided in future elections
across India. Further, that such facilities shall be duly publicized
through the print and electronic media.

Anita Ghai

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