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Accessible Elections in India & lessons for the future

Posted in General

May 22, 2019

Its results day tomorrow, officially bringing to an end what is being called
one of the closely fought, closely watched and most bitterly contested
elections in India’s history.

This election was also historic for another reason – the spotlight it threw
on people with disabilities. It may not have always been for the right
reasons – the comments by political leaders across the spectrum comes to
mind – but from the Election Commission of India, to NGOs to disability
rights advocates, to poll officials with disabilities, every effort was made
to live up to the stated motto – ‘Leave No Voter Behind’.

Did we get everything right? Far from it but there were many valuable
takeaways. On Story of the Week we ask those invested in the
Accessible Election exercise, what the lessons for the future are.

Dr Satendra Singh, Member, State Steering Committee on Accessible
Elections, Delhi

“One of the biggest lessons learned by me was that accessibility is not the
sole responsibility of the ECI alone. I visited a school in East Delhi chosen
as a polling station that dismantled the temporary ramp created by the Chief
Electoral Officer the very next day after the election. Despite Right to
Education Act and Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, why have schools
not complied so far? For one day, the ECI is doing so much, but why no
seriousness on the part of schools to comply with it? All such schools should
be subjected to penalties”.

“The other was during my training as Presiding Officer of a PwD booth, when
I learned two special ways of casting votes. Public servants on election duty
have the option of casting their votes through postal ballot (Form 12).
Similarly, voters in some categories of service have been given the facility
of voting through proxies appointed by them. If postal ballots
and voting by proxy can be allowed to Classified Service Voters, why can’t
the same be extended to people with severe and multiple disabilities, if they
wish so?”

Nipun Malhotra, Disability Rights Advocate

“The arrangements were inconsistent on the whole. There were
some places in Punjab that got it right but neighbouring Haryana had many
problems. Same was the case with West Bengal. “

“Going ahead, I think a checklist needs to be made of what arrangements
need to be there for people of different disability types. There also needs
to be greater focus on sensitisation. I am not sure how much time and money
was spent on sensitising voting booths for instance. Also, every state needs
to have an NGO partner to ensure that accessibility is
addressed. The PwD app was a good initiative but in rural India connectivity
proves to be a problem so perhaps having the same facility on website in
different regional languages would be a good move”.

Raj Vaidya, Lokvishwas Pratishthan, Ponda-Goa

“There was need for more sensitisation, awareness and training
of all the polling and security officials at and around the polling stations,
regarding accessibility and ease and comfort of voting for all the various
types of disabilities”.

“Going ahead, the top three focus areas should be:

This election has seen some significant precedents –
Anjali, Kolkata managed to organise voting for 54 persons
who are residents of Pavlov Hospital – from getting voter ids to organising
sessions around parties and voting machines. Iswar
, Kolkata and Banyan, Chennai organised
voting for homeless persons with psychosocial disabilities. However, this
needs to move beyond committed civil society organisations because issues
of accessibility for persons with psychosocial disabilities call in to
question their very right to vote due to previously regressive laws and
stigma around mental health. Thus, in discourse around electoral
accessibility, one hopes to see greater nuance as well as systematic
execution of accessibility. – Rajvi Mariwala, Mariwala Health

Monika Kshatriya, Secretary, iDare (initiative for Disability
awareness rights and empowerment), Goa

“In Goa some of the NGOs along with government agencies conducted
accessibility audits. Though the end result on polling day
wasn’t upto the mark, there were many lessons learnt”.

Shampa Sengupta, Disability rights activist, West Bengal

“Elections do not take place in vacuum. Unless whole society is sensitised
about needs of disabled population, we will never get accessible elections.
All polling booths are placed in public buildings, not in private spaces.
Even our old law of 1995 mandated all public buildings should be accessible,
it is important to ask why that did not happen, instead of pointing fingers
only at the ECI. Disability training should be given to everyone
at school level. I do not think giving few hours of training few weeks before
the elections to the concerned officers will solve the larger problem.”

Jomy Joesph, Disability rights activist, Kerala

This election wase partially accessible. Facilities promised were not there.
Lack of accessible parking and washrooms was a huge problem.
Next election, hope the ECI implements everything correctly what they had
promised instead of merely putting it down on paper”.

ALSO READ:”Treat us as equals” – Disabled staff manning voting booth in
Delhi send out a loud, clear message


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