The 16th Lok Sabha polls, one of the largest democratic elections in the world, are in full swing. When millions of Indians vote in the coming days, their ink-stained fingers marking another important moment in our democracy, we need to ask whether all citizens have been able to participate in these elections.
Voters with disabilities have been an invisible minority to the Election Commission, political parties and the public in general. In 2004, the Supreme Court, in Disabled Rights Group vs The Chief Election Commissioner and Anr, laid down specific directions for the EC to implement at the time of voting. These directions were basic — ramps at all voting sites, tactile and Braille buttons on EVMs and allowing voters to take companions for assistance when they cast their ballot. The EC wasted no time in sending these directions to all its state election commissioners, but the actual level of accessibility and voting in those elections did not dramatically improve.
Now, 10 years later, we are at the same crossroads. In a recent audit of polling sites in Bangalore, it was found that most of the 7,700 sites were not accessible for voters with physical and locomotor disabilities. If we want to take voting rights seriously and ensure that our Constitution guarantees this right for every single person, we cannot ignore voters with disabilities. I make three arguments here.