CHENNAI: As many as eight disabled people were dependent on me for their voter ID registration. I ran from pillar to post in the last six months to ensure that they all had their Aadhaar and disability cards in place. Now, it is election time, and I started putting all my energy into getting voter ID cards for our members. When I called the helpline number, 1950, to register, it did not work. I have tried multiple times and the call has failed all times. With the deadline to register over, they cannot vote in this election,” said Dr Sumithra Prasad, a disability rights activist.
Almost 80 per cent of first-time voters in the disability sector in Chennai will not be able to vote in this election, say disability rights activists, as the Election Commission’s voting helpline 1950 is not functional, and many were counting on Election Commission’s promise to register disabled people at the doorstep. The voter registration deadline in Chennai was March 16.
“1950 is futile. After the language preference option is selected, the number keeps you on endless hold. Even when an educated person like me was not able to understand what was going on with the helpline number, the plight of people from rural backgrounds is unimaginable. No matter how much we talk about having an accessible national-level number, unless it is user-friendly (not just to the educated), it is of no purpose. When the number did not work for me, I checked with a couple of other organisations and they too had the same issue. I personally know about 125 first-time disabled voters in the city who will not be able to cast their vote this election,” shared Sumithra, who was unaware of any other facility available for registration like the mobile application or website.
K Arathi, a 28-year-old first-time voter and person with disability, said, “Last elections, I could not vote because there were some issues in my Aadhaar card. The helpline has let us down. All the political parties call for inclusive elections. All we are asking for is to give same treatment as others. The government must take a step to ensure at least half of us are enrolled, otherwise the election is unfair.”
Vijayashree Ramesh from Vidya Sagar, an NGO that works with children and adults with special needs, said she gave up after multiple attempts to register a voter through the helpline failed. “The 22-year-old girl with multiple disabilities cannot be expected to go to the centre for registration. First-time voters from the disability sector will require their parent or guardian to accompany them and in most cases, parents are not interested. Also, there are safety issues with physically voting,” she said.
This will have a gross effect on the disability sector in achieving its rights, said TMN Deepak, founder, December 3 Movement. “The implication will be such that if you do not register yourself as a disabled person, neither an activist nor a political party will be able to assess the real weightage of the PwD population, which is crucial to avail any scheme. Of the at least one lakh disabled people in Chennai, around 20,000 are first-time voters. Is it a fair election if a large chunk of population is not voting?”
When contacted, the concerned official from the Greater Chennai Corporation said they were fully staffed and that they worked from 9 am to 9 pm every day. “We conducted many camps to ensure people get marked as PwD in the electoral roll. We are doing our best for inclusive elections,” added the official.