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The Election Commission Should Do THIS To Increase Voter Participation In The Next Elections

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By Dr. Amrit Patel:

The word Democracy has its origin from two Greek words, “Demos” meaning “people” and “Kratein” meaning “to rule”. Democracy, therefore, means Government by the people themselves. The late Abraham Lincoln, then President of the USA clarified the concept of democracy by describing that democracy is “the Government of the people, by the people and for the people”. In the Roman Republic, the rights of the individuals were always recognized and respected by the rulers who came from amongst the people themselves. For the Romans it was always an accepted doctrine that Vox populi supreme lex, i.e., the voice of the people is the supreme law. When people take keen interest in the functioning of the Government, they not only safeguard their own liberty but also realize the stake they have in the transparent and good governance of the country. This can prevent the ruling party in power augmenting its power that can jeopardize the interest of society.

vote

It has been well said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and people in a democracy must take care not to be beguiled into a false sense of security by ruling party in power making a constant encroachment on their rights and liberties under the guise of alleviation of poverty, and employment generation leading to raising the standard of living of common men. This, therefore, emphasizes the significant need that each and every electorate must invariably exercise its franchise at the time of each election and keep a vigilant eye on the legislative activities of its elected representative. Electorate must express its opinions on all public matters by all constitutional means. Electorates should deem it their duty to demand from their elected representatives in the Legislatures to regularly apprise them their views on all topics affecting them. The ultimate success of a democracy can be measured in terms of the extent to which the electorates have intelligently taken interest in the functioning of the Government. In the final analysis, in a democracy the Government must function in accordance with the will of the electorates. Against this background this article highlights the need for the Election Commission to significantly enhancing the voters’ participation in all elections.

Our constitution has aptly conferred every adult Indian citizen of specified age to vote as well as get elected when election takes place for Gram Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies and national parliament. Free and fair election in a democratic country is a sine qua non. Equally important requirements are the effective participation of almost all voters and candidatures of dedicated persons. Free and fair election has necessarily to be equally accompanied by expected level of eligible voters’ participation in each constituency. While it has been a broad day light fact that a good number of State legislators and Parliamentarians have records of crimes, frauds, corruption, amassing huge wealth and considering them above the laws of the land, among others, voters’ participation in each election has been grossly inadequate to make the elected person a true representative of the voters and the geographical constituency. As for example, when around 6o% voters of the eligible voters vote and the share of elected candidate is 40% in the total votes cast, it represents only 24% of eligible voters, leave alone the population in the constituency. This cannot be accepted.

Acknowledging the past experiences of all Parliamentary and State Legislative elections, it is now more urgent and necessary than before to progressively improve voters’ effective participation in the forthcoming legislative elections in five States this year and Parliamentary election next year and all future elections. The very foundation and efficient functioning of the democracy through its election system lie in creating enabling environment in the country such that all eligible voters willingly vote in the election. It is indeed most disappointing that a good number of educated urbanites and those serving in several public and private offices are not willing to vote, despite they are given a full day paid holiday on the day of the election. The recent directive to add one more button on Electronic Voting Machine exhibiting none of the above should help understand exactly the percentage share of eligible voters not voting for any candidate but exercising their rights to vote.

It should be the serious concern for all the stakeholders to appropriately analyse constituency-wise the factors contributing to the low level of voters’ participation as also those inhibiting the large scale participation, particularly those not voting despite getting paid holiday just for facilitating them to cast their votes. This necessitates creating significant level of awareness among illiterate and semi-literate voters in rural and urban centres such that they do make it a point to cast their vote and exercise their right to elect the legislatures. Simultaneously, there is need to understand the real reasons for not voting by those given a paid holiday through comprehensive studies constituency-wise in each State and evolve the system, methods and procedure such that they are enabled to vote and exercise their right.

In this process, the role, responsibility and function of the Election Commission need to be crystalized and expanded sufficiently such that the Election Commission put in serious efforts to progressively improve the voters’ participation in every election to follow. Obviously, the State Government has an equal role to initiate policy and programs based on the studies and socio-economic considerations and effectively coordinate with the Election Commission such that in each of the constituencies in the respective State progressively voters in significant numbers willingly vote.

While some eligible voters do not find their names in the electoral rolls, others do not have valid identity cards and many find administrative procedure too cumbersome to get them registered as voters. Migrating or floating population is almost denied this right. In some villages voters are intimidated and threatened if they come out to vote.

The Election Commission should have a vision, mission and a strategic action plan that can significantly increase voters’ participation in each election, say for instance more than the previous election or more than the average value of last five elections in each constituency. Effective system, methods and procedure supported by appropriate monitoring and grievance redress mechanism can contribute much to achieve the targeted share of voters’ participation in the eligible number.

Educational institutes, business/corporate/industrial houses, public sector organizations, Government offices, financial institutions, insurance companies, NGOs, Civic Societies have a significant role in this area. Media of communication should play effective role in this area on lines of recently successfully concluded “how-to-do-it RTI” workshops by the Times of India in 18 cities in partnership with the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.

While there are no incentives for voters to vote, there are no disincentives for those not voting. For example, those getting full day paid holiday just to facilitate them to vote can be deprived of this facility in case they do not vote and adequate compensation need to be paid to those who willingly vote sacrificing their time and earning on the day of the election.

Photo Credit: Dean Terry via Compfight cc

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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