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'Today, I was deprived of my right to vote'

April 11, 2014 09:44 IST

Reeti PandharipandeWhen Reeti Pandharipande walked into the polling booth at 7 am, she expected to vote. Many hours later, she returned home tired and frustrated, with a finger that was not ink-stained.

You voted on April 10. I did not.

Here's why.

I woke up at 6.15 am and was at the polling booth to vote at 7 am. I had my voter’s ID card, the same one I had used in three previous elections, at the same centre where my in-laws and husband vote.

To my shock, my name was missing!

I looked up as many lists as possible till 1.30 pm, moving from one booth to another, trying to find a solution.

My husband and I then went to the voting helpline. The name is irony itself; the voting helpline looked like it needed a lot of help.

There were four staffers who were attending phones that were ringing off the hook.

A typical call consisted of a caller complaining that his or her name was not in the voter list. The helpline operator would take down the details and promise to call “later” if he could find the name in the voter list.

This was easier said than done as the website on which the list could be searched was painfully slow and full of bugs.

The staff seemed earnest, but were helpless.

They couldn't find my name on the list, but they did give me a shocking bit of news: My voter ID, a unique combination of alphabets and digits, was associated with the name of a woman staying at Manewada (Reeti stays in central Nagpur while Manewada is located at the city's periphery).

Disheartened after over an hour's futile wait, hubby came back home.

My father-in-law suggested I meet the district collector and complain about the goof-up.

I went to the collector's office, but the man in charge, Abhishek Krishna, was away on poll duty. I was asked to meet the deputy collector, Pradeep Dange.

After a brief wait, I was granted an audience with Dange and other senior officials.

Already seething with anger and frustration, I told them what the problem was. Deputy Collector Nishikant Suke told me that if my name was not in the voters's list, I could not vote on April 10. Period.

I pleaded with him and explained I had voted in at least three elections previously, had not changed my address or made an application to delete my name from the voter's list. How, then, was my name missing from the list? Who deleted it? And why?

The official said, "It may or may not have been a mistake. You should have checked whether the latest voter's list has your name. It's not our responsibility at all."

So let me get this straight!

It is my responsibility to complete the voter registration procedure, submit all documents, identity and address proofs.

It is my responsibility to stand in a queue to submit the documents and get my picture clicked.

It is my responsibility to not mislay the card.

It is my responsibility to produce it every time I vote.

And, yes, it is my responsibility as a responsible, educated citizen to vote.

But why is it my responsibility to check if my name has been deleted from the list due to a clerical goof-up?

Why is it my responsibility if my voter ID has been allotted to some random person?

And if my name has been deleted due to no fault of mine, why is my responsibility to go through the same circuitous procedure of making the voter ID card?

I got this explanation: "Do you know how much workload one officer has? How can all that work be done flawlessly? The voter list gets updated every January 1. So your name got deleted. Do you expect me to keep a check on each and every name?"

Yes, I bloody well do. Because, sir, that's your damn job.

Our politicians spend millions of rupees campaigning, constituency-hopping in chartered planes, putting out ads and paying crowds to attend their rallies. If they are so desperate for votes, how about making sure that the voter who wants to vote for you has his or her name in the list?

Reeti had to return home with a finger that was not ink-stained.There are many people just like me, whose names were deleted from the list because of a 'clerical error' and who went from one booth to another, one office to another, to plead for that one opportunity to have their say in the country's democratic process.

And all they got was, "Go away. Make a new voter card. You can't vote this time."

The governnment, the politicians, the administration get disheartened by the fact that barely half the voting population takes the trouble to get out of their homes and vote. They make appeal after appeal about how every vote is precious. About how it is a responsibility. A duty. A right.

Yes, my vote is my right. And today, I was deprived of my inviolable, Constitutional right, for no fault of mine.

So, instead of posting a selfie with my inked index finger, I am posting something different.

I am posting my middle finger to this wretched system and to the politicians who don't deserve my vote.

I don't respect the system, because the system doesn't respect me.

An angry Reeti Pandharipande initially posted this column on Facebook.

Photographs courtesy: Reeti Pandharipande

Reeti Pandharipande in Nagpur