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This Is What The Election Commission Of India Needs To Ensure For True Participatory Democracy

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By Milan K. Sinha:

Almost everything went off well during the recently concluded election to five states with declaration of all results by 9th Dec’13 and completion of process of government formation even in Delhi where the electorates gave a fractured mandate. The discussion on gain or loss to political parties – mainly the two largest ones, the Congress and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) with emergence of a new political force, AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) in the country’s capital followed in full swing. It is still on in the light of inherent political message of this semi- final exercise for the final round – 2014 Lok Sabha elections to be held before May.

Election Commission Of India

Undeniably, the Election Commission of India (ECI) should derive satisfaction on timely completion of this basic democratic exercise and also for perceptible improvement in voter turnout across four states. The only exception was Mizoram where the percentage was slightly less than what it was in 2008. Interestingly, however, in Mizoram the voter turnout was the highest among all the five states at 81.29%, but it is below the figure of 82% polled in 2008.

Statistically speaking, while Delhi recorded a turnout of 65.13%, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan registered a turnout of 77.05%, 72.51% and 75.20% respectively. This percentage in last election of 2008 was 57.58 % in Delhi, 71.06% in Chhattisgarh, 69.78 % in Madhya Pradesh and 66.25% in Rajasthan.

The poll watchers and political analysts are of the opinion that the improved voter turnout indicates greater participation of young Indians, particularly first time voters, both male and female — as per 2011 census, this number is around 150 million, which is about one-fifth of the total electorate of the country; a desire for change, growing political awareness, effective mobilization by political parties and also the impact of various awareness campaigns of election commission through social media, hoardings, banners, public interest messages in electronic and print media, campus ambassadors, social workers etc.

It is interesting to know that the Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of the President and the Vice-President of India. As such, it endeavours to conduct elections in a free and fair manner so that faith of the people in the democratic process is strengthened. And to achieve this pious goal, it is necessary that all persons and political parties have an equal opportunity to contest elections and all voters have an equal opportunity of making a choice by casting their votes. It being so, elections must ensure that all eligible citizens are enrolled properly and are given the opportunity to vote in an informed, transparent and ethical manner.

Now, limiting our discussion only on voter turnout in the current situation – after six decades of election management, in the light of ECI’s mandate and also its own perception of calling an election really successful, it is pertinent to look at the issue a bit deeply.

We are a 66 year old independent country where the Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950 and where the first general election was held 61 years ago in 1952 with 61.20% voter turnout. But, it is extremely shocking to observe that the voter turnout in last Lok Sabha election of 2009 was only 58% – 3% less than what it achieved in 1952. Ironically, the turnout percentage hovered between the highest of 61.97% and lowest of 56.97% in the seven general elections held during the period between 1989 to 2009. That does mean, besides many things, that around 40% adult citizens have no say in electing a government that is supposed to rule them too in the name of inclusive politics based on equity and justice. Why it is so? Is it the real democracy our constitution talks about?

It’s common knowledge that the voting percentage, despite being a misnomer (as higher voter turnout does not always mean higher number of people reaching polling booths–it’s just that the percentage is higher, not the number) for known statistical reasons, remains higher in assembly elections as people come out in relatively large number to exercise their franchise mainly in order to express their opinion on local issues affecting them directly. But, here too the overall voting percentage in state elections is not more than 70% which is 30% less than the ultimate golden figure.

Reports say that the election commission took many initiatives which include its mega awareness programme of Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) – particularly in areas known for low turnouts to encourage voters to exercise their basic democratic right. All this must have a definite bearing on the surge in voting percentage besides factors like inclusion and participation of youths and women in sizable numbers across the country due to multiple socio-political factors. But still there is a big gap in target and achievement which calls for serious introspection on the part of ECI.

To put it in plain words, the election commission can’t afford to be complacent going by the percentage improvement (for which it is receiving lots of praise and complements) and may also be improvement in absolute numbers of voters casting their votes to some extent for obvious reasons, it has the duty not only to ensure enrolment of all eligible citizens very genuinely- pruning the fake voters simultaneously from its rolls, on highest priority, but also to create such a congenial situation which prompts, if not compel, every voter to cast his or her vote (now NOTA option is also available on EVM) in a free and fair manner to register minimum voting turnout of 90% in next Lok Sabha elections and in each election thereafter.

Isn’t it the most fundamental task to be performed by the poll regulator of the country boldly and proactively in all possible manner? Hope, the ECI, the central and all state governments together with all political parties, make this happen by enlisting support and cooperation of civil society in an unprecedented manner to let our democracy function in true sense of the term.

The writer worked in senior positions in financial sector for three decades following three years of active writing in various newspapers and magazines. A post graduate in Chemistry from Patna University and also a graduate with Economics.
Presently, besides being a freelance writer/ a regular contributor to newspapers & magazines also engaged as a Stress Management, Lifestyle Management & Wellness consultant, Motivational Speaker and Awareness campaigner.
Address: 306, Sona Place, Near Mangal Market, Sheikhpura, PATNA-14 (Bihar, India)
Moblie: +919608708344, Email: hellomilansinha@gmail.com

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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.

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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