Street dwellers deprived of voting rights


KOLKATA, April 24. - They are Indians too. But they do not get to exercise one fundamental right - the right to franchise. In the wake of the ongoing furore over poll graffiti on private walls, the walls of their "homes" too are getting defaced.

They are the street dwellers. The 1991 census said there were about 35,000 of them in Kolkata alone. The number has gone up over a decade. Add to that those in the district towns. While a fraction of them live by begging, the rest are wage earners and self employed people.

Despite their numbers they remain passive spectators while the ever vociferous politician never tires of speaking about "upliftment of the poor." Come election time and his enterprising followers become a common sight, busily distributing voters' slips. They however seem blissfully apathetic when it comes to ensuring voting rights of the homeless - maybe because this floating population scattered all over the state does not add up to any sizeable vote bank of any given area.

Babu Das (20), pulls a rickshaw during the day and sleeps on the pavement of Rashbehari Avenue. "How do I get my name into the voters' list. No one ever comes", he said.

Mohan Mondol (33), has never voted. "Who will include our names in the list. We are poor. Who bothers about our vote."

Sanbari Mondol, Nitya Gayen, Maya, Kajal - none of them have seen the inside of a polling booth. Not that they care. As Kajal says: "Why should we vote? Time and again we get chased away by the police, they rob us of our belongings, indulge in ransacking. No politician ever takes a peep here. What is vote for us?"

Mangala Das, a domestic help, is one of the lucky few whose names are included in the list of their respective "native villages." But for the last couple of elections she has not been voting. "I don't have a ration card. Besides who has the money for the journey."

Politicians and bureaucrats preferred to pass the buck to the the people themselves. Mr Rajdeo Goala, Left Front candidate from Belgachia (east), said: "Some people in our country have always lived in pavements. What can we do about that? The government tried its utmost. Inspite of that if some names have been omitted, it is their own fault."

Mr Sougata Roy, Trinamul candidate of Dhakuria said: "This is inevitable as there is no premises number of these people. They have to do without voting rights." His party colleague Mr Tapas Roy, a candidate from Burrabazar ,which has a substantial homeless population, also chose to play his party's long-time favourite card of "fudged voters' list" and "government apathy", without making any attempt to delve deeper into the issue.

The CEO, Mr Sabyasachi Sen said: "Our last intensive revision of the voters' list during which we went to people's houses was in 1995. What were they doing during the subsequent six annual revisions? It is not possible for us to cater individually to the 4.86 crore voters of Kolkata. Now it is too late to do anything."

Wherever the lapse may lie, the question remains that does the mutual indifference of politicians and those that the city could not provide with homes befit the world's largest democracy?

Referred by:Balram Sampla
Published on: April 26, 2001
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