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Compulsory Voting: Going Bareback With The Drawbacks

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By Shruthi Venukumar:

Every time the word compulsory is mouthed before me, it spells great urgency! The picture of a sword hanging over the head is what comes to my mind in a flash. From the compulsory December Saturday extra classes back in school to compulsory dress codes to be followed to the Tee (pun intended), compulsion has always been the source of repulsion in me. And now, for some local bodies, compulsory voting! So it does not come as a surprise when a certain Narendra Modi making convinced claims of a majority win in the State Assembly polls with compulsory voting strapped onto the people elicits wariness in me instead of the expected warm rooting. While the former scenario involved an investment into my future, the latter may point to a rigged one. In widespread parts of the world penetrated by the hold of democracy, compulsory voting is hailed as the only true form of bringing to the fore true public opinion. It is not a hogwash playing out under the viewpoint of “the more the merrier” but a philosophy that relies on “the greatest good of the greatest numbers”. In these neo-cradles of civilization, abstinence from voting, except due to certain conditions of health etc., can invite punishments of fines, prison term or community service. If Modi has his way and whims, Gujarat could see a sea change to the aforementioned system. But will all be hunky dory under such a system?

With over 1.2 billion gracing the terrains, some in areas impenetrable to the twines of governance and law but under the tentacles of gun-toting so-called “socialists”, Indian sovereign territory is not the best practicing grounds for the phenomenon of compulsory voting. A political star-gazer’s astronomical charts could very well predict phenomenal failures. For one, the countries whose long-going practice has been used as the framework for the on-going debate on compulsory voting are ones which offer social security where citizens have means to the basic means of living as sponsored by the State. Back home, while we do have Directive Principles of State Policy added to the Constitution to make bare necessities within the reach of the downtrodden, the non-justiciable nature of these renders them paper tigers, ending up as thinly-veiled excuses in the hands of the State to deprive the unfortunate citing poor finances of the nation. In more than 63 years since independence, the DPSPs have not found a moneyed enforceable place in our Constitution, playing a game of carrot and sticks with the poor. In such a situation, using votes as a trade off for bare minimum necessities (shrouded behind the lure of cash) will gain a strong foothold if voting is made compulsory. Even if the bankrupt are made outside the ambit of polling purposes, we must remember that the numbers of poverty are understated in this country thus paving the way for corrupt elements to lure, threaten and arm-twist the chunk of the underprivileged into voting precariously. The risk of a good-intentioned law turning into an ill-bearing one will be magnified as those willing to place a null vote or being found voting contrary to a particular party or ideology might be threatened with unlawful consequences. A misuse of the laws punishing wasted votes can mean bullying voters into casting premeditated ballots. If the ruler in power happens to be a rogue with a rouge-painted purported image, the whole machinery of democracy can come to an abrupt standstill with the rampancy of practices mentioned above. Theoretically, the roguish nature of such states will snatch misplaced legitimacy relying on the gargantuan numbers polled in their favour. The paint is still fresh on the memories of an era where open rigging of entire polling booths was a usual yet turned-a-blind-eye-to sight. Not memorable memories those! If compulsory voting is voted in, it may not take a long while for life to come a full circle.

Another uncomfortable feature of the Indian vote base is illiteracy. Voting for correct policies can only be expected of people if they are in the know of the political scenario. In a nation where certain tribals still owe loyalty to a certain political party because of their legendary belief that Indira Gandhi is alive and sending them rice at Rs.3 per kilogram at the time this is being written, compulsory voting can only show skewed results. A ballot paper is not only a question paper for the candidates but an answer sheet wherein citizens register their astute observations on the government that ruled over them for the previous five seasons. It is based on these answers that the next government makes its assessment of the intellectual faculties and no-nonsense attitude of the people it governs and it is ultimately this assessment that sets the limits of the government’s reins.

Like a majority of India’s problems, the cited problems can find absolution in free all-India education and financial independence. Universal adult franchise is but the butter on the toast of universal education.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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