Tag Archive for Delhi election

Differently abled voters’ rights: Activists demand apology from Election Commission


Do the voting rights of Indian citizens depend on their different abilities – whether mobility or sight? Asks angry activists in a letter addressed to the Election Commission of India

By Team FI

Inaccessible booths, lack of facilities for wheelchair users, the absence of braille stickers for the visually impaired and lack of support from the staff at the voting booths had created a humiliating and despairing situation for many differently abled voters who could not use their democratic right to cast their vote in the Delhi elections held recently.

Protesting against this, citizens and activists in a letter to the Election Commission (EC) of India have called for a public, written apology from the EC and the Cheif Electoral Officer, Delhi, to the differently abled voters in the capital of the country. And with written assurances, provide facilities for the visually impaired and wheelchair bound citizens, with the information about these facilities to be publicized thoroughly through every media.

Full text of the Letter
Even as Delhi hails an impressive voter out and calls it a ‘historic’ poll, the truth is that wheel chair users or visually impaired voters were effectively sought to be disenfranchised in this election. This is not only a matter of deep shame but a complete violation of Supreme Court orders.

Just a day before Delhi went to polls we marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3rd 2013. This was an occasion to renew our commitments to full inclusion and access, yet one day later India and Delhi violated this very promise.

We would like to remind the nation and the Election Commission of India that Delhi has 80,000 disabled voters. Yet, there was no information in print, television or radio on facilities for visually impaired voters or wheel chair users. Moreover, the website of Election Commission of India remains inaccessible to visually impaired persons. Do the voting rights of Indian citizens depend on their different abilities – whether mobility or sight?

Given below are a few examples of what has clearly been a widespread violation of the rights of differently abled voters across Delhi:

• West Rajouri Garden Polling booth number 138 had no ramps for wheelchairs and no braille stickers.
Dr. Anita Ghai, who uses a wheel chair could not reach the booth, but because she stood there protesting, she was lifted by the NDTV team as well as authorities and taken to the booth. The desire and determination was simply to vote, because to not vote would go against her democratic and feminist principles.

• Mr. Virender Kalra, a bank manager and a resident of Subhash Nagar, found there was no ramp for his wheelchair, so he got two persons to lift him and take him inside the polling booth.

• Polling booths number 11, 12,13, 14 in Rajokri had no ramps and braille stickers.

• Polling booth 13 in Rajokri had 7 stairs, again with no ramps.

• Abha Khetrapal , a wheelchair user could not cast her vote.

• Shivani Gupta (Booth no. 23 in 45 Mehrauli) could not cast her vote. She described her experience – ‘Yesterday I went to cast my vote for the Delhi assembly elections. This was the third time I had gone to cast my vote, but in terms of accessibility nothing had improved in so many years except there was a ramp. Having a ramp alone is not a solution to enable persons using wheelchairs to vote. I wasn’t able to cast my vote in spite of this ramp for the reasons described below. 1) The route to reach the ramp was inaccessible. It was a long uneven route difficult to negotiate for a wheelchair user. 2) The entry gate to the school had only the wicket gate open with a baton in the bottom at the height of 8 cm restricting wheelchair access. 3) The security did not have the key to be able to open the main gate. 4) The voting room entrance doors had wooden poles to divide the way to enter and exit the room. This division made the clear space to enter or exit the room very narrow for a wheelchair user to pass.

• Neeru Gautam, tried to cast her vote by taking her power chair all the way to the polling station in Block 26 Community Centre. She realised there was no ramp to enter and the entrance to the room was also blocked by a wooden pole which had been placed in the middle of the passage to segregate the incoming and leaving voters. She asked the election staff to come out and help her cast her vote. But despite repeated pleas, no one came forward. Then one person offered to lift her physically, which she refused as she felt it was humiliating and undignified, and came back without casting her vote.

For a person using a wheel chair, being physically lifted in this manner is deeply humiliating. And yet, many disabled voters, like Mr. Kalra and Dr. Anita Ghai, subjected themselves to this humiliation, as a determined act of citizenship, to make their voice count in our democracy. Others, similarly placed, did not or could not.

In the case of Dr. Anita Ghai, there was proof of this violation, merely because an NDTV camera crew, which had gone to cover a celebrity voting, coincidentally happened to be present at the time that she was trying to cast her vote, and so Dr. Anita Ghai was allowed, albeit in a humiliating manner, to exercise her franchise. In other instances, there is oftentimes no ‘proof’ that is demanded by the system, before it accepts or corrects its failures.

We must worry that if this is the situation in the nation’s capital, how grave the situation will be elsewhere, across the country, in smaller towns and cities and in rural areas.

The Election Commission is duty bound to ensure that each and every citizen can cast his or her vote. They ought to have implemented full access to differently abled citizens to polling booths and publicized them.

We demand:
The Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral Officer, Delhi issue an immediate written and public apology to all differently abled voters who were unable to cast their vote in the Delhi election due to lack of facilities enabling them to do so.

The Election Commission of India to issue orders, and give written assurances that all facilities for the visually impaired and wheel chair bound citizens shall be provided in future elections across India. Further, that such facilities shall be duly publicized through the print and electronic media.

Delhi election: Citizens issue womanifesto, demand safety for women


As Delhi goes into poll this Wednesday, citizens campaigning to make the city a safer place for women, have charted a six point plan for which they are seeking endorsements from electoral candidates

By Team FI

Women groups and citizens of Delhi have put together a ‘Womanifesto’ – a six point plan which will help to ensure the freedom and safety of women in the country’s capital. Activists involved in charting out the Womanifesto are seeking endorsements from political parties – the candidates have to commit to enforcing this plan within one year.

So far, Congress party leader and present chief minister Sheila Dikshit is reported to have endorsed the womanifesto. Activists state that, if political parties endorse this womanifesto, it could bring real change to make the city safer place for women and girls

Full text of the Delhi Womanifesto

Since Delhi rose up against rape and sexual assault last December, over 1300 rape cases and thousands of molestation cases have been reported. But, despite a round of reforms, lakhs of assaults remain invisible to the police and the judicial eye, and Delhi’s women still do not have the freedom that is every person’s birthright.

With this election Delhi’s citizens are demanding more action to stop these crimes against women. Slogans and limited reform are not enough.

The following manifesto is a six point plan critical to protect the freedom and safety of Delhi’s women and girls. All candidates should commit to enforcing this plan within one year:

1. Educate everyone: We will develop and begin to deliver comprehensive, well-funded and long-term public education programmes to end the culture of gender based violence including: curricula for each level in schools and universities, teacher training programmes; SMS, radio and TV public service campaigns to challenge the mindsets behind violence against women; curricula in medical schools and law schools, and modules for professional training.

2. Make laws count: We will work to ensure each government agency produces a detailed action plan to implement the laws to end violence against women and foster their enforcement. This will include infrastructure, personnel, training and will specify the funds allotted for each intervention. We will also adopt a Code of Conduct to end misogynist language in the Vidhan Sabha.

3. Responsive police: We will work with the Central Government to establish and enforce a public protocol for police response to crimes against women. We will change service rules to recruit, promote and penalise based on gender attitudes and performance; recruit more police officers to more effectively patrol and protect (particularly women); and establish rape crisis response teams. Police personnel who breach the new procedures will be investigated and removed.

4. Faster, competent courts: We will establish more fast track courts for crimes of violence against women, increase the number of judges to 30 per 100,000 population and increase the related staff and infrastructure. We will work with the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court to seek reform of court procedures to address victims’ needs.

5. Support to survivors: We will adequately fund and set up one-stop 24 hour crisis centres in hospitals in each police district, to provide comprehensive services to women who are victims of violent crimes. Services will include police liaison, medical, legal and counselling services, links to voluntary shelters and compensation. One stop crisis centres will improve and merge current rape crisis cells and crisis intervention centres where appropriate.

6. Safe streets, safe city: We will ensure Delhi is safe to move around, day and night. We will include women’s safety guidelines in the City Development plan, Master Plans and Local Area plans, and conduct safety audits. We will set up accessible night shelters, creches, and women’s toilets, especially in the poorest areas. We will expand the DTC bus fleet to 25,000; run safe transit workshops with drivers’ associations and unions; increase metro and bus security services; and extend the Delhi metro’s hours of operation.

Why I support Aam Aadmi Party


Lalita Ramdas, feminist and long time environmental activist discusses her experience of participating in the Aam Aadmi Party’s caller campaign and reflects on the reasons for her support

In the first week of November this year, I decided to do some voluntary work for Aam Aadmi party and made some 200 calls to random numbers on a data base for Delhi Aam Aadmi Campaign.

I understand this does not sound like a big deal – Only 200 in 10 days? Others are managing over 200 calls in one day – and some of our whizz kids have hit over 5000 calls. My own humble effort makes me realise the extent and depth of the time commitment made by so many from across India and abroad.

Looking at the total statistics on the Citizen Call Campaign computer prompt also show that out of a total number of calls made to date, the number of calls not reached/wrong has now overtaken those of the calls made. But even on a conservative count of 50% of those not reached voting for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – we are looking at approximately 60% of those polled actually voting for AAP. Can we dare to hope that the polls and predictions of 40 plus seats in the Delhi assembly will indeed be realised?

Statistics and surveys and demographics and psephology can be seductive and addictive. I would like to share some qualitative reflections and feedback about the actual experience of making these phone calls.

But first – a quick personal introduction. Who am I and Why am I supporting AAP?

I live in a village in the Konkan region of Maharashtra – am in my early seventies – and have been actively engaged with peoples’ movements and developmental issues for over three decades.

I have been an Armed Forces daughter and wife,[my father was the first Indian officer to head the Indian Navy [1958-62] – and I married another Navy man, who also rose to head the Indian Navy [1990-1993] . For the first few decades, like most of us in the services, we were encouraged to stay away from `politics’. I was a `loyal’ and mostly unquestioning supporter of the government of the day. It was only after I got actively involved with questions of poverty, injustice, illiteracy in urban slums in Mumbai and Delhi from the mid seventies, that I began to look at our governance, our leadership, and increasingly, our politics, more closely and critically. And in his final years my father – totally disillusioned by the loss of values and integrity all around him – used to talk to me about how he would have joined politics had he been younger.

I have already written in a recent post that a major turning point in my own political journey was the experience of being in the frontline of action post PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. In an unprecedented, spontaneous coming together of students, activists and hundreds of others over many months we defied curfews, marched for peace in the face of angry mobs wielding trishuls and iron rods, pushed a reluctant police force to register FIRs, and worked days and nights comforting the grieving widows, mothers and children, while also collating testimonies gathered from traumatised victims in the refugee camps at Nanaksar and Farsh Bazaar.

We had seen up close the ugly reality and the true face of communal and divisive politics of the government of the day and yes, of the opposition too. And many of us were part of a three day conclave in 1985 where we struggled seriously with the possibility of creating a new political order which might forswear the cynical exploitation of caste, religion and community and instead, truly live by the ideals laid down in the Indian Constitution and to which we pledged allegiance.

Alas we did not or could not seize the moment – and allowed the three Cs of Corruption, Criminalisation and Communalisation of politics to become rampant in the decades following 1984. The rest as they say, is history, and it has taken another 30 years, and many tragedies and corruption of unprecedented scale –to get us to the point where there is finally a viable political alternative for us to choose and support.

I speak of Arvind Kejriwal and the birth of the Aam Aadmi party which is providing us an opportunity which we need to seize with both hands, if we don’t want to make the same mistake we made in 1984. We are being shown a tantalising prospect of another world – where honesty, and integrity are valued; where the voice of people might be able to prevail with the revival of the Gram or Mohalla Sabhas, and where the calculations of caste and creed and religion will not be a factor in electoral politics. And it is exciting for all the potential it offers.

Yes, I too, like many of my friends and colleagues, have had a few doubts, and some continuing questions and concerns – be it initially about the choice of the name [where was Aam Aurat?!] , how will direct democracy work? Can an obviously Hindi speaking leadership and North Indian urban based constituency build traction in the south? What about economic policies? And yes – what is your political ideology? Whose side are you on? Can an `upstart’ party jump in the fray at such a late stage and hope to gain a following?

My position today, after a year of fairly intensive and sustained engagement with the party leaders and many who are critical and oppose AAP, through discussions on thematic subject areas, in person and over email, is a quiet, confident and unhesitating affirmation that this is indeed a historic opportunity that we should not lose. Both Congress and BJP for many, many good reasons have forfeited the trust and confidence of we the people of India. Yes – no doubt this will only be proven finally– once in December and then again in the general elections next year. They have been given many chances – I am NOT willing to trust them again – but certainly I am putting my energy, my support and my hopes on the leadership and integrity of Arvind Kejriwal, and the ultimate knowledge that the collective wisdom of the people of India, the Aam Insaan, will prevail.

I am excited and delighted by the sheer audacity and creativity of the entire campaign model – as well the refreshing candour and the direct challenge to the big money bags in all other parties. This will be a true test of whether we really need thousands of crores of Rupees to fight elections – or whether indeed people will rally around to support genuine candidates without expecting sops and incentives to do so. This then could herald a true, functional democracy.

The transparency of their fund raising and Donation drives is also refreshing – I love to see the humble donor of Rs 1, sharing the same space and importance as the person who sent 50 Lakhs, on the web site.

How I wish I were twenty years younger – that I could join the volunteers as they go from door to door in Delhi – talking, persuading, convincing the people that they should vote for the “jhadoo “– convincing them that this is our best chance to bring that fresh breath of clean air to Indian politics – and to give voice to the genuine aspirations of the Aam Aadmi and Aurat. But alas I have been unable to do so for a number of reasons.

And so I do the next best thing – which is to sit in my village home and call up random people in Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad as they go about their work and during their leisure hours asking them if they vote in Delhi? Will they vote on Dec 4? And may I ask if they might consider voting for AAP?

This has been one of the most educative experiences in a long series of many experiences over the decades – and there has been times in the phone calls where I have almost blessed the 73 years plus that I can bring to bear as I speak to so many about why their vote for AAP is so important.

I have had a few people who banged down the phone when I announced that I was a volunteer calling on behalf of Aam Aadmi Party —–but they were too few to bother about. By and large many who spoke English – told me that they would vote for the BJP – and Modi in particular because India needs a man like him at the helm. By and large they were also more impatient and certainly less civil.

In contrast about 60 -70% – mainly men, who have answered their cell phones and spoke in Hindi, were courteous, patient, well informed and ready to support AAP – and when they heard I lived in a village far away, they decided to take a few moments longer to tell me more about why they were excited about AAP !!

The women I was able to reach were relatively fewer in number – almost making me wonder if mobile phones were more likely to be owned by men? The women by and large also tended to be much more guarded in their responses and reluctant to divulge their thinking, or to come out openly in support of any party. Clearly the Aam Aurat will need much more engagement if she is to truly feel empowered and confident that she can and must take a political position – either as a voter or as candidate. This is a huge and critical challenge. And only when women are equal and strong members of parties, of parliaments, of assemblies and of Aam Sabhas, can we hope for a truly strong and vibrant functional democracy.