For homeless people voting a new experience

May 7th, 2009 - 7:05 pm ICT by IANS  

By Zarngam Higio
New Delhi, May 7 (IANS) “I voted!” said an excited 70-year-old Prithvi Chand after he cast his vote at the Ramnagar polling booth in Paharganj in central Delhi. The septuagenarian is happy because he voted for the first time in his life - thanks to an NGO working for the destitutes.

“It’s a different world today,” Chand told IANS.

“I just hope that change will happen for the good and that our issues would be highlighted by the politicians. I am thankful to the NGO for letting me use my franchise,” he said.

He is among the capital’s 500 homeless people who got their photo Identity card and for the first time exercised their franchise. They were helped by NGO Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, which works for homeless people and took a lead in enabling them to secure their election ID card and cast their votes.

Sanjay Kumar, executive director of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, said: “Our organisation has enrolled 2,000 homeless people in the voter list and among them 500 had already got their voting cards.”

According to the NGO, there are 165,000 homeless people in the national capital. Most of these people do odd jobs or are beggars.

With no proof of residence and no age-certificate, the majority of them could not hope to get a voter’s card. But the NGO fought for their right and this time they finally won.

“It’s for the first time in India that homeless people who are eligible to cast their vote have been issued voter identity cards. We provide them with Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan ID cards. These identity cards are recognized by the Election Commission and it allows them to enroll as voters,” Kumar told IANS.

He said the NGO first approached the Delhi Election Commission in 2003-2004 in an attempt to sensitise it on the issue of homeless people.

Santosh, a part-time painter who earns Rs.250 per day, is also a first-time voter.

Standing at the Ramnagar polling booth, he said: “Although I could have earned some money in the time that I spent in commuting till here, I chose to spend money to come here and vote.”

“Thanks to the NGO, I can now decide my future by myself. I hope the Congress comes back to power,” hoped Santosh, who lives in Paharaganj with other homeless people in a camp built by the NGO.

Forty-year-old Mansoor Khan, another first-time voter, is hoping that this election would bring relief for the under-privileged section.

Waiting for his turn to cast his vote in Jhandewalan, he said: “It’s great that now even we can vote. I have been wanting to vote for quite some time now.”

But these are just a handful out of the thousands that voted. Those living on the streets — not in camps run by NGOs — were not so lucky.

Parvinder Singh, communication manager, Action Aid, an NGO that works to end poverty, said: “The homeless people have no takers when it comes to political parties.”

“Without a permanent address, one cannot have a government issued identity card or voter card. This allows the candidates to neglect homeless people from their electoral considerations,” he said.

Zile Singh, who begs at Moti Bagh flyover, said that he has never voted and he doesn’t think he ever will. “I don’t have a home. No permanent place to stay. How will I get a voter card? It’s just a dream.”

“Even If I get the card, what will happen? My life will not change. I will still live on the street,” he said.

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