A fews days ago, I arrived home a little past midnight some 9 hours after leaving my cousin's place, where I was staying during a few days' visit to Delhi; and went like a good citizen the next morning to exercise my franchise. Almost like a portent of things to come, my wheelchair had - yet again, for the umpteenth time - lost two bushes (which facilitate movement of the seat so that the chair can be folded for easier packing) in transit from Delhi to Chennai! Before we set off, my driver Sekar had very sweetly done a recce on his motor-cycle re the accessibility of the polling booth. He came back and said there was not much of a crowd and that we could go.
So we trooped off to the polling booth, after Sekar convinved several policemen/women on the way that I needed the car to take me up to the booth as I `couldn't walk'. We had taken a manual wheelchair in the vague hope that it might come in useful. But the parked motorcycles that almost covered half the width of the approach roads, and the total absence of pavements made that hope a non-starter. However the police personnel all along the route kindly flagged our car (with its suggestive wheelchair at the back) to within about 20 feeet of the building housing the polling booth.
To access the booth, you could either climb the five or six steps or use the ramp that ran parallel to the steps, attempting to climb the same height at a gradient ofalmost 45 degrees! Sekar pointed out that puhing me up that ramp woul be virtually impossible and that having reached the top, I would anyway have to walk the rest of the way because the approximately 5 foot wide corridor had been split down the middle by wooden poles so as to create an in-line and an out-line. So, as I had expected, I had to hobble all the way on Sekar's arm, only to look at an unappetising list of potential candidates one could vote for and finally vote for NOTA (None of the Above).
What this did convinced me of was (a) my booth, as well as many that my friends with assorted disability had had to go to, was completely inaccessible to one who was strictly wheelchair-bound and could not even hobble the few feet I had had to; (b) many of my visibly impaired friends had also not really been able to exercise a `secret ballot'; and (c) no time should be lost before launching a systematic campaign - once the new government authorities had settled into their jobs - to set in motion a systematic plan to make the next elections (five years away) a truly inclusive process. This time was a definite improvement over the last one in terms of the courteousness of the authorities; in fact they were all so uniformly friendly and obviously eager to help that I did no want to seem rude and act the little paperazzi and take photographs illustrating the points made above, like the gradient of the ramp and the wooden poles.
Next time, I really hope that things will indeed be better.