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#Go Assist – Matdata Mitras in the Abode of the Clouds, empowering the youth powering the nation – Unleashing the Power of Poll Volunteers for Accessible Elections -By F R Kharkongor, CEO Meghalaya Matdata denotes an individual’s inalienable right to vote, and Mitra means friend. In Meghalaya this time, with the objective of ensuring that, “No Voter should truly be left behind” over and above other measures and initiatives, undertaken, hundreds of young and future voters were effectively mobilized as Election friends or Matdata Mitras, in the just concluded Lok Sabha Elections 2019, covering both the Shillong Parliamentary and Tura Parliamentary seats, spread over 3167 Polling Stations, across 60 Assembly Constituencies. Anchored on the firm belief, that it is critical to meaningfully engage the hearts and minds of impressionable young and future voters, a much larger dividend accrues from ensuring that, it is only by actually empowering the youth, that one can also tangibly power the nation. With this end in mind, to ensure the fulfilment of the 3E’s of Engage, Empower and Express, the initiative to involve, train and deploy the Matdata Mitras, became an article of faith for Meghalaya in the recently concluded LS 2019, in the context of Inclusive and Accessible Elections. The journey commenced a few months prior, to Lok Sabha Elections 2019, when the ECI sought specific inputs from the state, for developing suitable guidelines on the functioning of Poll Volunteers, which envisaged an enlargement and deepening of their role for LS 2019. Accordingly, building on the basic premise that “No voter should be left behind”, the role of the Poll Volunteer was gradually crafted and fashioned, aimed at meeting the objectives of inclusive and accessible elections. This initiative was gradually institutionalized by the ECI, as part of its general guidelines to achieve Assured Minimum Facilities (AMFs) in its entirety in a Polling Station, which act as a corner stone of electoral democracy. Through these assorted measures, the Poll Volunteer acquired a new centrality, on being listed as a mandatory AMF requirement, in Polling Stations, galvanizing Poll Volunteers to extend prompt and visible assistance for the broad swathe of voters, covering the hitherto marginalized and left out categories of People With Disabilities (PWD), the aged and infirmed. While making a Polling Station completely accessible, continues to be a challenge in hilly terrains like Meghalaya, faced with multiple difficulties, in ensuring smooth access for voters from road to Polling Stations due to rugged terrain. Also, in scenarios where ramps exist in Polling Stations perched on precarious hill tops, Poll Volunteers emerged as the ideal solution to surmounting these logistic and geographical barriers, with their ready presence, acting as a robust bridge and support to the aged and infirmed, ultimately making access of the marginalized to Polling Stations, both a doable and an achievable exercise. Preparations towards this end, started in right earnest, as the support of all key stakeholders was readily enlisted, drawing on members of leading Youth Organisations of the state, such as MBSG, NSS, NYK and also involving Ashas, Anganwadis and Community Resource & Rehabilitation Workers, in those locations, where a youth organisations presence was not pronounced. After a series of detailed deliberations, it was decided that the Scouts & Guides, would cover all Polling booth located in schools, both in rural and urban areas, the NSS meanwhile would expand its reach to all such PS located in colleges, and in urban pockets and in District HQs, whereas the NYK would cover Rural areas, and in locations and hamlets where its rural volunteers were functioning. This was followed by a State Level Workshop in collaboration with the Josh Talks Team of motivators and influencers. The training dwelled on aspects ranging from orientation about the constitutional and democratic rights, to accessible elections with a deep focus on a Poll Volunteers specific role, on how to be engaged meaningfully with the electoral process, The training also paved the way for sensitizing and orienteering the freshly minted volunteers to gain firsthand experience, exposure, besides offering a ring side view of the entire Polling and Electoral Canvas. Post training, and prior to their deployment as Poll Volunteer each volunteer, was provided colourful Poll Volunteer kits, comprising Election branded T-Shirts, Cap and poll volunteer paraphernalia to facilitate their visible and active presence and deployment in the field.. On Poll Day the Poll Volunteers truly lived up to their task, and were seen at many places actively assisting the PWD, the aged and infirmed in various Polling Stations. In some moving images, Poll Volunteers, stood proud testimony, to the ethos of compassion in action, carrying physically disabled voters, holding a senior citizens hand and escorting them to their respective Polling Stations, readily lending their shoulders to support the weak the old and the needy. The striking images of young shoulders and tender hands/eagerly and compassionately shouldering the tasks entrusted, remains etched indelibly in the public consciousness. Undoubtedly, the meaningful engagement of the Poll Volunteers this time, generated a substantial amount of goodwill amongst the voting community, at large, and particularly amongst the marginalized and peripheral voters, therefore, for whom Poll Volunteer’s involvement will be long remembered and cherished. Leading editors in their editorials lauded the maiden foray of Poll Volunteers in the election process on Poll Day. One of the editorials, even mentioned that “…..this is a major achievement in bringing inclusiveness in the way elections are conducted in the state…the support of volunteers like Scouts & Guides, NSS is a fresh initiative in making young people engage in democracy and have a firsthand experience in the electoral process…..with these measures the office has moved one step ahead, in making a point to ensure that differently abled people and senior citizen exercise their rights without any hassle by making the polling booth truly accessible to them”. In another editorial appearing in the state’s leading daily, it was mentioned by the state’s leading editor that “the ECI has done its job commendably surpassing past efforts, and actually turning the phrase “No voter to be left behind a reality……this time the CEO has pulled all the stops to enable physically disabled voter and the elderly cast their votes without hassle….boy scouts, girl guides and NSS volunteers were seen assisting voters and volunteering happily in all the activities”. The nascent promptings of this initiative has set a benchmark in electoral engagement of the youth, and is definitely going to have a positive ramification and a wider ripple effect, and perhaps herald a deeper and positive engagement of young people in all future elections. The authentic connect established is a manifestation of that trust, which in years ahead, is sure to further expand the narrative of inclusive democracy achieved through accessible elections. The legacy achieved undoubtedly is that of a Poll Volunteer’s indelible connect with democratic ethos and electoral democracy. Poll Volunteers collective involvement on poll day, in fact, contributed substantially to amplify the message of an increasingly inclusive and accessible election. These combined efforts will definitely fulfil the noble mandate of multiplying the electoral reach, to the unreached both in a physical tangible sense, and also in ways, that are intangible, sending out a loud message that there is an election machinery that cares about its young, its old and infirm and disabled that it is concerned for each and every voter, and that, truly every voter counts, to this effect the Poll Volunteer, has truly acted as a living bridge to democracy and in the process of being empowered, has also empowered the nation and, which in turn has enriched the entire inter play between the voter, the Poll Volunteer and the voting experience especially for the PwD aged and infirm. The involvement, meaningful engagement and services rendered by the Poll Volunteers was duly recognized and their engagement would be continued and sustained through the ECI’s democratic platform of Electoral Literacy Clubs and Chunav Pathshalas.
How to cast Vote using EVM - VVPAT
SVEEP-ECI posted a video in EVM, VVPAT and NOTAA step-by-step guide for casting your vote securely through EVM-VVPAT machine.
THE SILENT BALLOT
Director (SVEEP) posted an article in Good Practicesby Shri. Frederick RoyKharkongor, Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya. The village of Kongthongin Meghalayas East Khasi hills perched on an adjoining ridge is known far and wide, as the village where its residents, are identified not with their names, but through various musical whistles and sounds. It is strikingly ironical that just across the hill,and in stark contrast,lays the village of Massar, known as a ‘silent village’, with its 87 households, being either,partially or completely deaf.In the year of Accessible Elections, 2018, this was what drew us to visit the village,in an effort to better understand their lives. We wanted to make Elections truly accessible to each and every voter,and perhaps make an “unheard” election “heard”. Massar nestles in a mountain crevice en-route to Pynursla Sub Division, about 35 kilometres from the State Capital Shillong. The village is accessed by a steep winding road that twists and turns, through deep mountains, and is not too far away from the country’s southward borders with Bangladesh atDawki. To reach Massar, one has to fork off the road that leads tothe rain soaked mountains of Cherrapunjee. Soon we foundourselves at the village Headman’s house. The young Headman and his Secretary shared with us at length a detailed account of how over 87 households belonging to the Nongsteng clan have remained silent for generations together for the past 100 years. Interestingly, he revealed that there are two groups of people amongst the Nongsteng Clan – The “hearing group” – Nongstengsngewand the “deaf group” Nongstengkyllut, living on two different hills. He mentioned that 87 households from amongst the village residents are dominated by the Nongsteng “deaf group”. It is pointed out thatmost of the children in the age bracket 0-6years are at various stages of hearing impairment. Records of some NGOs working in the village reveal that this community of hearing impaired numbersabout 90 persons, including 42 children. The village elders also pointed out that with deafness often comes the inability to speak. When prodded on the reasons, the village elders, in the absence of any logical explanations,accounted the genetic handicap to a legend that deafness descended on the clan due to a curse of having eaten the ‘DohkhaSyiem – the queen of fishes’. This perhaps, is but a small subset amongst the many reasons, behind this all pervasive and continued affliction. Mist woven hills overlooking the Headman’s House We next moved to the Dorbar Hall where we were scheduled to interact with the challenged community,and soon enough,come face to face with them to understand how we could make tangible efforts at making‘Accessible Elections’ not only truly accessible but also truly inclusive. We soon realised, that not even the village elders could communicate directly or intelligibly with them, and it required an intrepid young lady Batimon Nongsteng a member of the Nongstengkyllut clan, to act as the bridge and a vital link between us and them. It was through Batimon, that the Nongsteng voters about 35 of them, some of them profoundly deaf, some partially, could vocalise their thoughts through signs and shrill syllables, perhaps residual remnants in the mind of what they had managed to learn, when they were little. Batimon shared with us, that to survive, some have learnt to lip-read, whereas a large many have floundered. We asked them whether they knew about elections or whether elections remained unheard. BatimonNongsteng –our bridge to the deaf using sign language and lip reading As Batimon motioned her fingers and lips in their direction through a unique combination of sign language and lip-reading, many of them raised their hands to indicate in the affirmative. The ERO of the assembly constituency however remarked that perhaps many of the women here continued to grapple with silence, at a time when elsewhere, the poll campaign would have reached a crescendo through loud jingles, bands, songs and speeches. Asked about how they responded to political campaigns, we were informed that they diligently followed messages received on their mobile phones, which even in their respective day to day lives is an indispensable tool for enabling them to communicate and negotiate their existence. We were told that as the aurally impaired amongst this community are mainly women, often it is a male member who would guide his female relatives through sign language on the voting process. Interactions with about 35 genetically deaf voters of the Nongsteng clan in the Dorbar Hall Massar Batimon expressed that across the village, silence hangs like a heavy curtain, and interpersonal communication is relegated to lip-reading and basic sign language. She confessed that when the village votes, even the beep of the electronic machine is often lost onmost ofthese women. When we explained, that the Election Commission has designated 2018 as the year of Accessible Elections,with a special focus on Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) like themselves, and that the purpose of our visit is to better understand their difficulties and challenges and to communicate to them personally that we will be creating special facilities for their enrolment and voting, it took only a moment’s gap for comprehension and soon,all present collectively break into a smile which drifted across like a hopeful haze. The mood of the room further transformed, as we announce that one of theirs,BatimonNongsteng will be appointed as a Special Booth Level Officer for PwDs of Massar Polling Station under 27-Pynursla (ST) AC, with the specific role to assist the PwDs in enrolment in the electoral rolls, to facilitate them during polling, and to also act as facilitator of the PwDs in all election matters, including issues concerning their welfare in connection with their participation in the electoral process. Sign languages, embodying applause, quickly follows when we announce that as part of Assured Minimum Facility (AMF), priority voting,and continued endeavours to ensure the presence of specially trained volunteers, would be made available for them in all future elections. To end this unique interaction, a vote of thanks was proposed by a young hearing impaired girl who recently passed her matriculation from St. Fernando, a leading speech and hearing impaired institution of the state. As we exited, the community appeared delighted to shake hands with the election team and to have their photographs takenbefore we made our way back to the State capital. We hope that withthese multiple efforts,to expand inclusive elections to the previously excluded, Massar village, withBatimonNongsteng as special BLO, will act as a new harbinger of change so that Massar will no longer be impervious to the festival of democracy. The hope and the challenge is to transform the ‘unheard that is not only heard loud and wide but is also experienced in manner that resonates in its entirety the Election Commission’s motto – ‘No voter to be left behind’. The CEO, Addl. CEO, ERO, AERO and Election Team pose with the Nonsteng hearing impaired voters at Massar Village
VVPAT What and How (60s English)
SVEEP-ECI posted a file in EVM, VVPAT and NOTA