Manjula voted today for the first time in her life. A momentous occasion. Well done Manj!
Check the photo of Manj. Here’s the mark of the indelible ink on her thumb to prove she’s voted and can’t therefore vote a second time.
Of course, I’m not allowed to tell you her voting preference or her age but she received her very first voting ID just this week and declared that she’d got one at this late stage i.e. with ‘half life finished‘ so better late than never, eh?
We arrived by scooter 30 mins before the voting station was due to open, at the school close to where Manjula used to live. [Trumpets Blaring] We were waiting for her mother and father to join us. This was a serious family outing.
There were a few people hanging around, a lady selling milk at the corner and a foreigner (me). The first sign of official life was the arrival of the army. Punjabis who were down from Delhi. They and the Police begin by insisting that there was no selling or loitering (aka innocently hanging around), cars or two wheelers parked within 200 metres of the school. The lady selling bags of milk at the corner was clearly not happy but she had to go. I was obviously not loitering. I was however sitting on a bench on the corner well within the exclusion zone but as a foreigner I’d got my ‘get out of jail free/community chest card from Monopoly’ and as I’d bonded with the sergeant, so there was no issue. I was allowed to stay.
Manj went over to a scrum of people to check whether she was on the list and able to vote. She was, hooray! Her mum was less fortunate (and now I’ve hear that there were many other people like her) she had her card but was not on the official list. So unable to vote. Manj’s mum came round to the house later on. She had found her name on the list held by a man loitering 201 metres down the road so was able to vote. (Just don’t ask as I’ve no idea,, India is an enigma)
But why had it taken so long for Manj to be able to vote?
The fact that she hasn’t had an ID card of any description until very recently reveals such a lot. The world’s biggest democracy has some difficulties reaching all the communities to enable them to use their vote. Understandable in many ways. There are two thirds of 1.3 billion people eligible to vote. A poor woman initially from a rural background is likely to find it most difficult.
Its especially difficult the poorer you are and in particular for women.
She now has Aadhaar card (general ID), BPL Card, Election card, and also very importantly another means of ID which is her bank account. So what does it reveal? Has something changed?
Something has changed in her life and in general.
People are now much more conscious of the need to get an ID card. They may need them to get a bank account which in turn will allow them access to benefits ranging from subsidised gas, health services and foodstuffs for those Below Poverty Line (BPL). The introduction of the Aadhaar, a general ID card, supposedly being issued to all the population has had a significant impact. Prior to this Manjula just had her school leaving certificate. A critical document for especially poor people but still not a lot of use.
It’s pretty clear (and shocking) that a woman’s official identity is linked with a man: father, husband, step father, employer. Ask Manj for her name and she doesn’t know what to say beyond Manjula. Her father died, she’s divorced from her husband, and mum remarried so not to put to fine a point on it… I’m now probably the most significant man in her life!!!
Manjula as ever, the ‘together’ woman that she is, has with her mum and step dad, got out there and asserted her rights.
I’ve tried to do my little bit. Hence she now has a bank account and regular payments of her monthly measly pay into her account. All of it contributes to helping her become more ‘official’ and who knows where that might lead? One day she might even get a passport and do some international travelling 😉