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'An Old Woman Locked up the Entire Election Team'

Polling officials in remote places go through untold ordeals as they make the world’s biggest democracy tick. Here are some fascinating inside stories

Published: 17th April 2014 08:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th April 2014 08:36 AM   |  A+A-

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Today, almost all government school and college teachers, besides government employees, are out on an assignment far from where they live and work.

Mandatorily assigned to polling duty, nearly three lakh of them will ensure free and fair elections in 54,264 polling stations across the state.

For some, it is an adventure and a service the country but for others, it is a four-day chore in some godforsaken corner.

“Why can’t women be given duties in the area of their residence?” a  teacher wondered.

Recollecting her one and only polling session at K R Puram, S Chandrakantha, former Kannada professor, Vasavi Vidyaniketan Degree College, says although it involved lot of hassles, it was an experience of a lifetime.

“In 2013 elections, my team and I had to walk a long way carrying the boxes. The night we spent was horrible with insects biting us and no place to sleep,” she recalled.

Working at a government high school at Avani, Lydia has undertaken election work four times since 2008. Describing her maiden experience as a polling officer at Sulaghanahalli, near Kolar, Lydia says, “Examinations, evaluations and elections are part of a government teacher’s work . It was a memorable experience sleeping on school benches and managing with the bare st of amenities.”

Remembering an incident in 2009 in Kolar, Lydia said, “Once a KSRTC driver barged in with his father’s voter ID card and demanded to cast his vote. As I didn’t allow him to do so, he kicked up a racket. I called up senior officers and the police and the issue was sorted out. Later the police dropped me back, providing all security,” she said.

Suma Sitaram, former employee of the Women and Child Welfare department, went to remote of Machanahalli. Her team found itself locked up by an old woman who actually wanted to help. “We had to go to the booth an hour before 7. But at 6, there was no sign of this lady,” she said.

She was paid Rs 20 as the third polling officer in 1981 and would be getting Rs 1400 as a presiding officer in 2014. “Even if they don’t pay me, I will do this work. After all, this is an election that comes once in many years. How many people get a chance to know the functioning of a democracy?” she said.

Party workers accompanying  candidates can be unruly. Sometimes, while accompanying disabled voters, they come in huge numbers and claim to be relatives. Since the last elections, the appointment of local booth-level officers is helping us identify voters and stop proxy voting.”

In 2013, Rohini was assigned to a poor village in Nelamangala with no amenities. “This time, I will be the presiding officer. For the first time, arrangements for food have been made with a tie-up with Akshara Dasoha. They will provide hot food for polling personnel,” she said.

‘Treasured memories’

He has served as a returning officer eight times in Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Mandya and Bijapur. Former Chief Electoral Officer M N Vidya Shankar says those days were tough as everything was manual, and technology was not so extensively used. “I still treasure my experience in Dakshina Kannada district as we had to take lot precautions with the leading margins being very narrow and the demands for re-counting getting louder. This was in the late 1980s and in some constituencies, the ballot paper was very long and in some, very short,” he said.

Remembering the record seizures in 2009, the former CEO said, “We seized cash amounting to Rs 82 crore, liquor and other items, which is still a record in Karnataka. I still remember this incident where ATM vehicles were used for distributing cash in Bangalore, Belgaum and Davangere. Rs 45 crore cash was seized. In 2008, a candidate who lost in an assembly constituency had distributed one gold earring to women voters before the polling and had promised the other after the counting. The political parties were always one step ahead of us, so we had to be very alert.”

He is proud about conducting clean elections for the first time as no posters, buntings, flags were allowed to deface public places. “This has continued with the enforcement of a law enacted in 1960. We also enforced a code of conduct to the last word,” he says.

Somehow managing to finish our duties, we set out,  and some good Samaritans dropped us to the main road and we boarded a bus back to Bangalore,” Suma said.

Service above self

For the last 33 years, Rohini, a resident of Bangalore, has participated in a record number of 12 elections including gram panchayat, assembly and Lok Sabha.  Her involvement in her job as a teacher from 5 to 8th standard at a government school in Devanahalli taluk is as passionate as in her election work.   

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