Noor Takkar has taken up the cudgels for securing voting rights for migrant workers, discovers Kritika Dua
Voting is not just a duty but it is also a crucial right that every Indian citizen needs to exercise. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to exercise this right. Migrant workers, daily wage labourers and the domestic helps employed are so caught up with the vagaries of life, that being in the electoral rolls.
But without voting rights, the migrant workers are unable to engage in the country’s political dialogue. They cannot engage with the democratic process – voice their concerns and unable to come together with a strong political voice to demand change — till now.
Noor Takkar a 12th class student from The British School has initiated a campaign — ‘My Vote My Voice’, with a motive to inculcate the importance of exercising this right among migrants and educating them on the merits of having a Voter’s Identification Card.
Takkar’s was initiated into her chosen journey by chance when she volunteered to teach children in the slums opposite her school during an initiative started by her school about two years back. “I started questioning as to why these children were stuck in a cycle of poverty that they most probably could never escape and I began to wonder on the alternatives to help break this vicious cycle. During my conversation with people, I came across a recurring theme of political interests and their inability to vote,” she said.
She inquired further to find out that apart from migrant workers even domestic staff did not have Voter ID cards. “This made me realise that apart from migrant workers even domestic staff did not have it. I discovered that many domestic migrant workers that come to Delhi and NCR region to find odd jobs are effectively disenfranchised because they either do not have a Voter’s ID card and if they do, it’s from the place that they are permanent residents of. Since they cannot afford to travel to their home district to vote, in effect they get disenfranchised,” added Takkar.
In some cases, even after living for a decade or two in Delhi, migrant workers remain outsiders. The political parties and leaders for decades have favoured their political careers over people’s interests, resulting in widespread and systematic inequality. Talking about the importance of voting and her inspiration behind it, Takkar said, “The only way to fix this is to make the politicians recognise the need of these families through the exercise of the most fundamental political institution in any democracy — voting. Therefore, I believe that I should initiate in bringing change to this pattern and this was my inspiration for the project.”
The journey of ‘My Vote My Voice’ was not an easy one. “The plunge into this initiative initially seemed difficult as there were numerous legal facts and procedures that I had to learn in order to help these people and needed plenty of research. It also stuck to me that the project will require additional support and I approached my classmate Siya Malhotra who was also teaching students from the slum and was passionate about social justice.”
A lot of migrant workers that they approached were either not registered at all or were only registered to vote in their native state. Therefore they were unable to vote. So, they decided to start their project — My Vote My Voice (MVMV) which deals with the social empowerment of domestic migrant workers through political inclusion.
MVMV team has conducted various events, which include awareness programmes and voter registration drives at places like a factory in Kundli, Haryana, rehabilitation centre in Vasant Vihar, South Delhi, awareness programme at Kusumpur Pahari slum in South Delhi et al. Takkar said, “We have also conducted special registration drive for differently-abled students who turned 18, at the National Association for the Blind (NAB) at RK Puram.”
The progress of the project can be seen from the encouraging numbers. So far more than 125 migrant workers and their families have filled the registration forms, out of which 61 have been able to obtain Voter ID cards. “Our efforts reaped benefits when few migrant workers who got their voter id cards through our assistance, voted in the Delhi Municipal election.”
During the course of the journey, the duo has faced challenges. While updating their facts regarding a legal position of the government and the Election Commission’s stance for providing alternative voting facilities to migrant workers they realised they face another problem. “People were not getting their existing Voter ID card cancelled at their native place before applying for a new one at their place of work — something which is essential under the rules.”
With continuous follow-up and motivation, they have been able to sort out this issue as well. It was also difficult for them to persuade people to take half a day off from work and go to the respective constituency ERO (FULL FORM) office for submission and verification of documents. Foregoing the earnings of half a day amounted a lot for them. “After repeated persuasion, we have been able to convince them to fix up a date when all applicants can go together to the respective constituency ERO (Electoral Registration Officers) office for submission and verification of documents. It was not easy for us to follow-up with ERO office for issuance of Voter ID and resolving any other related issues, by taking out time after the school hours,” added Takkar. So, they have taken the assistance of an NGO, Bhai Sahib Ditta Mal and Sons Charitable Trust (BSDCT) who provides them with the administrative and organisational support in doing the same.
For the awareness project, they created PPT presentation in Hindi entailed with motivational videos which highlighted the importance of voting in a democracy which was also spoken in Hindi so that it could be easily understood by the migrant workers. It also helped to sort out their queries. They have also created a website for it as well.
Most of the migrant workers they approached did not even try to get a Voter ID. Only some of them tried to fill the registration form required for it. Due to several reasons they could not get it such as one has to submit documents of age proof and residence proof and being unaware that a registered letter delivered at one’s address can serve as a residence proof. The government has simplified the procedures regarding submission of documents — age proof is required only when one is between 18 -21 years of age and if one is above 21 then there is no requirement of submitting the same. To expand their reach, Takkar and Malhotra have created a dedicated helpline number and the queries are being answered by the executive from the BSDCT. They are planning to include students from other schools as volunteers in the next voter registration drives.