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Why The Use Of Ballot Paper Will Ensure Free and Fair Elections In 2019

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In an unprecedented move 17 opposition parties in India have decided to write to the Election Commissioner to allow use of ballot paper instead of  Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the 2019 general election. However, at this juncture, it is important to understand that a political party becomes a ruling and opposition party only in the due course of time. Their tag of being in power or in opposition changes, but their status as a ‘political party’ representing an ideology and of course the public remains constant.

So it is not these 17 ‘opposition’ parties but 17 political parties which are not in power today and may or may not be in power tomorrow, yet remain an integral part of the democracy. These parties believe the ballot paper system of voting is the way to go for a free and fair 2019 general elections. It is here that I wish that these political parties should come out of their role of being in the opposition and act as the representatives of the people they serve and the ideology which forms the basis of their foundation. Alas, it seems to be an open truth now that political parties hardly care about the people and their founding ideology. Their single aim remains to grab power in whatever way possible. The many contemporary post-poll alliances are example of this attitude present in every single political party today.

The wild accusations that have been made by those against the EVMs do not sound as if they have been against the EVMs, instead they have been against the free and fair process of elections. These accusations are against the election commission and imply that the Election Commission in collusion with the BJP has helped it to tamper EVMs. This forces me to think that the election commission is destined to suffer the same fate which the CBI has always suffered in terms of its credibility, an infamous ‘tag’ to serve those in power.

No matter how grim the situation these political parties paint to us, the reality remains that the election commission siding with those in power is just not possible, thanks to the makers of our constitution.  The constitution of India has given a robust democratic structure and fabric to our country which is not that easy to tamper with. In fact, as a common man with a firm belief in the constitution of India, I would go ahead and say that those who say that a political leader or a political party has tampered with the election process, either gives undue importance to those in power or just simply thinks too highly of them.

We the people of India elect our representatives to serve us and the power of our democracy brings them back to our doorsteps with folded hands in every five years. Even if that is the only time they fold their hands in front of us, but deep down they know that people of India hold the real power.  Therefore, unlike our neighbor Pakistan we have never seen a dictatorship in our country and will never see one in the future as well. No wonder the arrogant political elite in our country have to reiterate time and again that they are nothing but the servants of people of this nation.

Let us refresh our memory a bit and go back to the year 1975, the closest we have ever come to a dictatorship when the emergency was imposed by the Indian National Congress, a party which had a massive majority of over 350 seats in the Lok Sabha. It was not long after that it had to bite the dust and pave way for the Janta Dal to govern the country, and it obviously happened through a free and fair process of election.

Many would argue that back then ballot papers were used, to which I agree and therefore I would move to a more recent event in 2015. The massive victory of the Aam Admi Party in the Delhi assembly elections, a party which has aggressively led the charge against the Election Commission since 2017. There are many more examples like the Congress winning in Punjab in 2017, the BJP getting reduced numbers in their heartland Gujarat, and very recently the Karnataka elections where the BJP could not form the government since they did not have an absolute majority. All this indicates that not just the election process is free and fair in India, but also that if anybody thinks that s/he can muscle their way to power by running over the democratic process of elections of our country then it is nothing but a self destructing idea.

In such a scenario, the question remains then what is this hue and cry all about. Simply, the hue and cry is about the EVMs which are highly susceptible to tampering. A simple YouTube search would lead to loads of videos on how EVMs can be tampered. Several countries like Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, among many others too have found EVMs to be prone to hacking. In fact, less than 20 countries use EVMs today, India being one of them. Ireland spent a hefty amount to install EVMs in their country, but ended up scrapping them because of their lack of credibility.

It’s a wrong argument that we would be going a step back in technology if we resort to ballot papers now. USA along with many European countries have chosen the ballot paper system of voting. They are obviously not any less technologically advanced than us, but still have chosen credibility and transparency over technology and this is the need of the hour in India as well.

So, the problem is not in the archer but in the arrow itself. If the arrow is faulty then it will never hit the target and the world will find ways to blame the archer. In my opinion, this is unfair to the archer especially if the archer is entrusted with the responsibility of conducting the elections of the largest democracy in the world, an event which people across the globe watch and scrutinize at length. So, as a common man while I have full faith on the election commission and the process of free and fair elections at large, I have very little faith in the EVMs. At any other point in history I may or may not have batted for the use of EVMs, but in the current scenario instances like the CBSE board exam papers getting leaked don’t help. We had childhood rumors when we gave the board exams about these papers being locked in huge metal boxes with armed police men guarding them, back then it was a dreaded dream even to think that CBSE papers can get leaked. That’s not the case now and there are serious doubts over credibility of technologies like EVM. Even UIADI had to issue an advisory to stop giving ‘Aadhaar challenge’, after  TRAI chief, Mr. RS Sharma’s open Aadhaar Challenge backfired.

So, it is not just the duty of these 17 political parties to demand the election commission to resort to EVMs in 2019. Even BJP should also write to the election commissioner to use ballot papers. It is the duty of the ruling party to understand the sentiments of the masses which is doubtful towards the EVMs.

It may still be possible that elections in 2019 are conducted through EVMs only and the result is such that it would not matter to these 17 parties anymore as to what the mode of election was. They will all in one tone pat the back of the election commission for conducting a free and fair election, but in the process our country will lose a chance to answer those who doubt the robust structure of our democratic institutions.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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