Institute of Mental Health inmates vote for the first time
It has been 19 years since Manikam (name changed), who originally hails from Virudhunagar, voted. When he voted after almost two decades on Thursday (April 18) in the polling booth organised on the campus of the Institute of Mental Health in Chennai, much had changed. He felt as if he had exercised his franchise for the first time. He told The Federal, “I felt very happy this morning and I almost had tears in my eyes. I was the first in the queue.”
Manikkam is one among the 159 inmates of the institute who voted. In a polling station organised specially for them, the inmates queued up one after the other and underwent all formalities like in every booth—checked their names on records, got their fingers inked and cast their votes using the VVPAT machines. It has been the first of its kind initiative organised for Lok Sabha elections.
The NIMHANS in Bengaluru too has undertaken a similar exercise. Hamsa (name changed), originally a resident of Thiruporur, has voted several times. “But this time, it was very different. I could see the name of the candidate I chose. I voted for someone who would do good for all of us, including the poor. I am going to share the experience with my family. I never thought I would vote here. It has been more than seven years for me here and I lost all hope of living like others. I am so thrilled,” she said.
An elaborate process
In a process that involved the Election Commission, the Greater Corporation of Chennai and the Disability Rights Alliance, 192 out of the 900 odd inmates were scrutinised and found eligible to vote.
The experts at the institute judged them on their decision making capacities after they recovered from psycho social ailments like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Among the filtered list, a few have been discharged, while the details of the rest could not be verified for issuing the Voter IDs and polling slips.The 159 voters comprised 104 men and 55 women who were given demos on voting on the EVMs.
Street plays were also staged to talk about their voting rights. Dr P Poorna Chandrika, director of IMH, said, “They were also oriented about their candidates and the manifestoes to help them decide on their choice,” she said.While the exercise has been welcomed by experts as it is in sync with the election commission’s attempts to make the elections 100 per cent accessible, experts also believe that it will help integrate the inmates with society.
Chandrika added, “The stigma associated with mental illness is not easy to remove. The Mental Health Act too speaks about granting autonomy to those with psycho social ailments. This is a huge step towards the direction. We hope that it will send a clear message to society. The voting exercise is therefore a liberating experience for them. We hope the families come forward to accept them.”