By Rohit Bharti:
If I told you that you can draw parallels between impoverished rural women who are residing in one of the most backward areas of Bihar and students studying at University of Delhi, you might laugh at me.
The Delhi University Students Union election which was held on September 9, 2016, is considered to be a major event as it gets primetime coverage on national news channels. It also helps people across the country get an idea of what political ideologies the Indian youth hold.
My intention is not to glorify or demean any party based on the results but to shed some light on the dismal participation in this election. This year, DU had a total of 1,23,246 voters. Out of 1,23,246 voters, only 44370 voters had cast their vote. While 36% of voter turnout is very low, it is also a 7% drop compared to the previous year. This year was also the first election of DUSU to include NOTA (none of the above) option. A considerable number of students’ – 17,712 voters – opted for NOTA which is around 14% of eligible voters and around 40% of the total voter turnout.
Last year, at the time of the 2015 Bihar assembly election, I was working in Bihar with the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS) which is a World Bank supported project run by the Government of Bihar. At that time, the Bihar Election Commission had launched a special drive called, ‘Systematic Voter’s Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP)’ aimed at voter awareness and higher voter turnout in Bihar election. The team of BRLPS had worked tirelessly to ensure higher voter turnout. We were especially instructed to educate rural women. We were using different mediums to educate them as our target audience was uneducated. We were showing them short movies, motivational videos, and inspirational songs in local language. Around 12-15 self-helps groups (SHGs) were taking out rallies with banners holding slogans in Hindi like, “Vote dalne jana hai…chunaw ka parv manana hai” (If you vote, you celebrate the festival of democracy) around their villages. We had also organised ‘Prabhat Bheri’ at the block and district level in which more than a thousand women had taken oath to cast their vote. Bihar had achieved 56.8% of voter turnout as against 52.7% in the 2010 assembly election.
It was surprising to see the voting percentage at the DUSU election. While educating the rural women in remote parts of Bihar, I was convinced with myself that they have been disenfranchised from participation in development for the long run because of which, these women are not aware of the changes their participation in voting can bring in their lives.
At the University of Delhi, it’s common to see students discussing national issues. They seem to be highly aware of political conversations happening in the country. Cultural programs and ‘nukkar natak’ (streep play) are regular practices. You can even find groups performing at Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station on a number of social issues. Almost all colleges have their discussion groups or social groups. Most shocking is that democracy is one of most preferred topics of discussion in campus.
Students of the university know that while the university has only one DUSU election, at the same time, the university also has departmental, college-level and hostel elections to elect student representatives. Like other departments/colleges, the election was also scheduled in the social work department. You will be surprised to know that candidates on each post of the department as well as its hostel were selected unopposed except for the post of general secretary in the department. It was the only post, in which two candidates went head-to-head.
I was surprised to know that on the last day of filing the nomination papers, almost all the seats did not have a single nomination. As it is important to have a student’s representative from departments and hostels, students were mobilised towards the end to file the nomination paper so that important posts don’t go vacant.
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