This article originally appeared on VICE India
V-Day is finally here! And while we’re referring to today being the first day that 900 million Indians across the country kickstart the voting process in the 2019 elections, it’s still got all the lavish gifts, endless promises and hope for change that Valentine’s Day typically comes with.
Voting is one of the most important rights that those in a democratic setup can exercise, especially when they think the current state of affairs isn’t working out. The indelible black ink marks the renewal of the political process, a chance for people to determine who they believe should run the show. But even as millions of voters are educating themselves on what the right choice to make would be, there are many others who won’t be heading to the voting booths—either out of choice or helplessness.
India’s voter turnout in the 2014 election was at an impressive rate of 66 percent, higher than the US and most developing nations. But just like you wouldn’t trust an online shopping portal that promised to deliver your stuff within 24 hours only for it to never show up, get drastically delayed or show up in the shittiest way possible, many voters remain apprehensive about the change being promised to them. For some of them, this translates into a decision to boycott the election altogether. VICE speaks with some of them to pinpoint their reasons:
They feel their issues have been long ignored
Whether it’s the lack of basic facilities in Tamil Nadu, the feeling of living in a nowhere land despite being a heartbeat away from the capital, or even the lack of a nearby polling station for people in Arunachal Pradesh, many small villages across the country feel the government is not being held adequately accountable for the issues it doesn’t address. Everyone from distressed farmers to occupants of flood-hit areas share the sentiment that their complaints and expectations are being ignored and overlooked; only this time, they have extended the same attitude towards the voting process.
“It’s been 71 years of independence but only a section of the people have actually benefited from the parliamentary sessions. Even now, only 6 percent of the population owns 72 percent of its wealth,” says 23-year-old student activist Dwaipayan Choudhary, who is also a student politician at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.
He feels that although the democratic system of elections makes sense at a university level where there is transparency, at the national level it only caters to the interests of the industrial class since they fund the campaign. “The only solution is for the people to get out on the streets and fight it, the way the tribals did when the Vedanta mining company in Odisha tried to take over their resource-rich land.”
They fear for their lives while stepping out to vote
The Pulwama attacks arose as a major talking point this election season, with the government's reaction to it even being speculated as leading to increased support for the BJP. Accounting for six Lok Sabha seats, Kashmir remains a key election focus area. But according to Srinagar local Burhan Bhat, people in Kashmir don’t actually vote.
“In the previous election, whoever had the black (ink) mark and was caught voting was beaten up, and it’s a threat to life,” says the 19-year-old student, telling us about an incident during a rally held by the former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, where an attendee spoke to him about how despite risking being beaten up in the previous election while voting for Mufti, none of the promised changes actually materialised. “Earlier at least 30-40 percent of the people would go to vote, but now there’s too much militancy that goes on and even the police are involved in it,” he says. “When the fear of losing my life is real, why should I vote? And who should I even vote for? No one is trying to help us.”
According to Bhat, not only is it dangerous to attempt to vote in the area, but those who do are usually representatives of the parties or their relatives. “Kashmiris hear stories while growing up and then see the situation around them where the Central Reserve Police Force is killing their friends, so people think of themselves as separate (from the rest of the country). They want freedom, not India or Pakistan.”
They feel that the lack of visibility for the LGBTQ community is a dealbreaker
Despite the Supreme Court’s historic judgement on September 6, 2018, to repeal Section 377 which criminalised unnatural sex, the queer community remain one of the country’s most vulnerable vote banks. And while parties have tried to appeal to this historically marginalised community, many within it feel no responsibility to vote for a government that hasn’t done much to improve their socio-economic conditions so far. One of these is transgender actress and model Navya Singh, who feels that there is no scope for change for her community. “I have taken part in reality shows and television shows which never got aired, our Kinnar Maa Trust’s request for an orphanage for trans children was never given to us, and we have to pay all these taxes but can’t even find a job,” she says, talking about how the controversial Transgender Person’s Bill not only compromises their identity and rights, but even makes it difficult to get a passport.
“If there was someone who could champion our cause and uplift our conditions standing for the election, I might have voted. We still get threats and don’t feel safe, acche din humare liye toh nahi aaye hai (the good days have not come for us).”
They are suspicious of the electoral process
For many, the effort that goes into registering as a voter itself is an obstacle, especially young people who are living away from home and have additional responsibilities and an overload of work. “I could have got my address and electoral roll changed, but honestly I don’t think that anyone has that kind of time and energy to deal with the public system, and why should I do it when I don’t want to support any of the candidates?” asks 22-year-old journalist Kuwar Singh, who also believes his profession requires him to remain neutral and not pick a side. “There’s NOTA, but it’s so stupid, pointless and powerless. It never gets a majority, which would have at least been a scathing indictment for a democracy.”
NOTA isn’t the only doubtful feature in the electoral process. Many fear that even the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that actually register the vote and the VVPAT system that counts them are susceptible to manipulation and have probably decided not to vote because of it.
They tried, but just haven’t been able to get on the list
Not wanting to vote is one thing, but not being able to is a bigger concern. Despite establishing womens-only booths to make voting a safer experience for women, 21 million women voters' names mysteriously disappeared from India’s voters lists, while many weren’t able to register for unknown reasons. 23-year-old psychologist Safvana Khalid, who tried to register to vote in Maharashtra, is one such woman who hasn’t been able to figure out why her residence proof was rejected despite putting in her proper ration card details.
“I wanted to vote to assert my responsibility as a citizen of the country and to ensure I am heard through my vote. I feel bad that I won’t be able to exercise my power and am somewhere losing my right to dissent.”
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