Voting Rights for Indian Poor

New Orleans Recently in Delhi all of us as organizers of ACORN India greeted the news that the Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC) was allowing the urban poor without home addresses to register for voting cards with great excitement. Dharmendra Kumar, Hina Sheikh, and Prachee Sinha all attended a meeting while I was in India to see what it would take to break the logjam of the 100,000 who had tried to register so that they could finally vote.

As organizers we knew the ramifications of this first-time experiment are huge. If it worked in Delhi, the nation’s capital, then we could begin campaigns in Mumbai, Bangalore, and elsewhere to try to force the same provisions to be enacted.

The impediment historically has been that without a fixed address that could be verified by the election commissioners, an individual could not vote. This effectively disenfranchised millions of the urban poor in India who were living as slum dwellers, pavement dwellers, and transient labor from place to place.

But this breakthrough could also represent more than a significant step forward in creating a voice for the urban poor and a progress in civic engagement. Winning rights for the homeless to vote in India also opens the door to a base level of citizen wealth for the urban poor in the country.

Simply put without a voting card which represents a formal identification, it is virtually impossible for a poor individual in India to obtain a ratio card. Getting a ration card means that finally a citizen can access what exists as a survival net in India (to call it a safety net would be absurd) since they can obtain minimal allotments of food and cooking fuel.

If we can get our arms wrapped around it, ACORN India sees this as a huge potential campaign that could benefit tens of millions in this huge country.

An article in the Indian press this week gives some sense of what it all means as the first poor, 500 citizens have pushed through to enfranchisement and gotten to exercise the vote.
New Delhi, May 7 (IANS) ‘I voted!’ said an excited 70-year-old Prithvi Chand after he cast his vote at the Ramnagar polling booth in Paharganj in central Delhi. ‘I just hope that change will happen for the good and that our issues would be highlighted by the politicians.
Our ally, Action Aid, hit the nail on the head in the same piece: “Parvinder Singh, communication manager, Action Aid, an NGO that works to end poverty, said: ‘The homeless people have no takers when it comes to political parties.”Without a permanent address, one cannot have a government issued identity card or voter card. This allows the candidates to neglect homeless people from their electoral considerations,’ he said.”

Some people find it hard to believe which underscores the fight in front of us: “Zile Singh, who begs at Moti Bagh flyover, said that he has never voted and he doesn’t think he ever will. ‘I don’t have a home. No permanent place to stay. How will I get a voter card? It’s just a dream.”Even If I get the card, what will happen? My life will not change. I will still live on the street,’ he said.”

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