With State Assembly polls just months away, The Banyan – Centre for Persons with Mental Health Issues along with Disability Rights Alliance (DRA) has tied up with the State Election Commission to ensure the upcoming polls are truly inclusive.
A special registration camp was organised by district revenue officials, at the Banyan – Chennai Corporation shelter for homeless men with psychosocial needs in Dooming Kuppam on Friday. As many as 29 residents of the shelter registered to participate in the poll.
For 71-year old Puniyamoorthy, housed at the shelter for the past three months, elections were important because, “Only then we elect a good leader, we can ensure a just and better society. I keep track of all political developments by reading newspapers.” Puniyamoorthy had lost his voter ID some time back and said he was happy that the camp was organised.
According to Punitha Suresh, coordinator at The Banyan, persons with psychosocial disabilities are often denied the right to exercise their franchise. “Though the right to political participation is guaranteed under several laws, including the Persons with Disabilities Act (1995) as well as the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, their don’t feature in our electoral rolls!”
As per the Representation of the People Act, 1951, citizens are disqualified from electoral participation if the person “is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court”. But Punitha says the concept of “unsound mind” is vaguely defined and hence shouldn’t be cited as a reason to deny rights to persons with mental illness. “If a person’s disability doesn’t interfere with his ability to exercising his franchise, how can he be deprived of the right to vote under this legal framework?” she said.
Nevertheless, she is delighted that the State Election Commission, headed by CEO Rajesh Lakhoni, is committed to enlisting excluded persons. Two more special camps are planned at The Banyan’s other shelters at Kovalam and Mogappair soon.