KG Anu (name changed), who is recovering at the Institute of Mental Health in the city, hasn’t voted in about a decade. But on April 18, she will cast her vote again. Anu is not alone, for there is Benson*, a resident of Bengaluru, who has been under the care of doctors here for almost a decade. He expresses his wish to vote a secular and strong government. “They should do good for the country and people. I am excited to vote again after such a long time,” he said.
As many as 192 inmates of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in Chennai were given a EVM demo at the institute on Thursday, a week before the one –phase Lok Sabha selections in the state. The group comprising those who have recovered from psycho social illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder will be casting their votes at a booth organised on the campus by the Greater Chennai Corporation officials.
The voters who have been scrutinised by a team of doctors from the institute were assessed for their decision making skills and their names were enrolled by the Corporation officials. The attempt is in sync with the Election Commission of India’s attempts to make the polls 100% accessible, largely aimed at the population of people with disabilities.
Talking to The Federal, P Poorna Chandrika, director, IMH, said that among the 900 odd inmates, the 192 people were selected for enrolling, depending on their capacity. The group is mostly people from Tamil Nadu, while there are a few from other states like Karnataka or West Bengal. “Since they are under our care, we assessed their capacity to vote. It is a great way to remove stigma and the Mental Health Care gurantees them all fundamental rights,” she said.
The Disability Rights Alliance (DRA) kicked off the ‘Vote Poduven’ (I will vote), a votability awareness at the IMH along with the demo. A street play was staged by the Alternative Media Centre to create awareness among the inmates. Vaishnavi Jayakumar of DRA said that the street play will be staged at various other venues that have people with psycho social disabilities are enrolled for voting, like the Banyan, Adharavau Home and the SCARF Mahabalipuram and the YWCA. She said, “Many of these have voted earlier among the group would be aware of only paper ballots and not EVMs. The idea is to give them an orientation of the procedure and the message of why their votes also matter. The idea is break the fourth wall.”
She added that there has been very little awareness on the rights and capacity of the group to choose and vote their leaders. “We will soon orient them with the candidates they have to choose from, for the elections,” she added.
Accessibility observer Santosh Mishra who presided over the event said that the ECI had taken all measures to ensure that those who can vote, exercise their rights this elections. “They will be given a separate queue at the booths that will also have officers who are trained in sign language. The queue will be given priority over the others. In places like Thiruvallur, we have used icons with disability to encourage those with different kinds of disabilities to come out and vote,” he added.
Similar attempts have been made to include people with psycho social ailments on the voter’s list in the NIMHANS in Bengaluru.