Vrindavan widows to vote for social recognition (Election Special)
Manu Ghosh, 85, a destitute widow residing at an ashram here, is both eager and elated at the prospect of casting her vote in this election. Ghosh is one of the 225 lucky women, out of 3,000 widows living here in miserable conditions who have a valid voter card each and can vote this time.
For these women, voting remains the only way to seek social recognition as they were compelled to move to the ashram after being shunned and ostracised by their families and then by society just because their husbands died.
But getting the voting rights was also not easy.
"Earlier, more than half the widows here had voter ID cards and used to cast their votes as well. But later, many found their names missing from the voters list and so could not exercise their right," Ghosh told IANS.
"Though Booth Level Officers (BLOs) had asked them to fill up new forms, they never turned up at the ashram to provide the forms," Ghosh said, adding that the poll panel had carried out one drive in which the 225 women were able to get their voting cards.
She added that if the forms had been provided to all, the women could have easily got their names again included in the list.
"Neither did the BLOs turn up, nor was any exclusive drive initiated to enrol them," Ghosh added. She said she was lucky that her name was still in the voters list.
Vrindavan, a part of the Mathura Lok Sabha constituency where polling will take place April 24, has actress-turned-politician Hema Malini as the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate who faces Jayant Choudhary, son of Civil Aviation Minister and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and the Aam Aadmi Party's Anuj Garg. Jayant Choudhary is supported by the Congress.
According to the superintendent of the ashram, Mittal Patel, the widows do not feature on the priority list of the authorities since they are old and illiterate.
"Since most of them are old and illiterate, they are not aware of their fundamental rights. Despite being the authority's duty, hardly any attention was paid towards their enrolment in the electoral rolls here," Patel told IANS.
"A two-day verification drive was carried out a few days ago, following which the 225 names were confirmed and included in the voters list. No other drives were undertaken to include more," he added.
The ministry of women and child development says there are 34.29 million widows in the country.
Added Ghosh: "Voting is the only solution to our plight. As no welfare initiative is ever taken by the government for us, we really expect the political candidate we vote for to work for the improvement of our conditions."
Ghosh said that she also voted in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in 2012, "but I do not remember whom I voted for."
Said Patel: "The widows do not even get their pension on time. Many of them receive their pension just once or twice in a year, which is not even sufficient to fund a trip to their hometowns."
She added that the widows wanted to exercise their voting rights and elect a responsible leader who could improve their lives and help in drawing the government's attention towards their plight.
Another eligible voter and resident of the ashram, Usha Dashi, said that she will vote this time and hoped that a better government would come to power.
"I want the government to pay more attention towards our troubles, including the insufficient food we get to eat. We want our living conditions to be improved," the 60-year-old, who has been living in the Vrindavan ashram for a decade, told IANS.
"We have been terribly ignored. First, it was our families and now it is the government that has pushed us to the peripheries of society. We demand development and want our conditions to be improved," she said.
(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 20-04-2014)