What Harrowing Stuff Do The Women Who Run Our Polling Booths Put Up With?

The 2019 elections are half done, the rest of the country waiting to cast its vote. But do you know that the well oiled machinery of the polls runs on the labours of some "invisible" personnel, a large number of whom are women? 

The 2019 elections are half done, the rest of the country waiting to cast its vote. But do you know that the well oiled machinery of the polls runs on the labours of some “invisible” personnel, a large number of whom are women? 

Wondering who I’m talking about? Think – what are the exact steps you go through when you walk into a polling station to cast your vote?

There are a few tables in a line. You step up to the first one and get your voter ID verified. Then you go on to the next table where you need to check your name in a register, and sign against it for polling records, and the person there marks your left index finger with indelible ink. Then you go on and cast your vote. There may a couple of other personnel, who ensure that the voting process runs smoothly.

These personnel can be both men and women – remember the movie Newton in which a tribal Naxalite area needs to have a polling booth set up?

Training sessions

Most of the personnel who run the polling machinery are government employees and school teachers. School teachers – that beleaguered group of people who have these duties piled on top of their other duties, especially when elections or the Census comes along. And they have no way to get out of the election duty without being penalised.

I spoke to a few friends and relatives this time, among teachers. So the procedure works thus

  • the teachers had to go for at least 3 sessions of ‘training’ at different places, of which the 1st day of ‘training’ involved their being allowed the date and place of their poll duty.
  • this ‘time off’ that they had to take was taken out of their rightful leaves, not considered part of their work, which it should have been.
  • a lot of this time given to ‘training’ goes in waiting for the officials to turn up, to get their act together, and actually organise things.

In an increasingly digitally connected world, I see no reason why they could not be given their assignments by a mail or an sms, especially as almost everyone has a mobile phone these days; I do not understand the need for them to take half a day off work to go to some place to be just ‘given’ their assignment.

Cut to the actual poll days

The place they are assigned is a not a convenient place nearby – no. I know 4 such teachers personally, and they have always needed to travel at least 2 hours in backbreaking crowds and traffic to reach the place.

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They need to be there at the allotted venue the day before the polls are due, to set up the place, and ensure that the whole process is working fine. They are then required to stay over at the place. Women are “permitted” to go back home, and have to come back the next day before 6 am. Polls open at 7 am, and before that, they have to check that the whole contraption is working by casting 50 dummy votes, a process that begins at 6 am. After that, it is a long, hot day, given that most elections are in the summer. And they need to stay back to wrap up the whole thing long after the last voter has cast their vote.

Now even through the day, one would think that they were given some basic facilities, like a working, fairly clean toilet, drinking water, and food through the day. But no one is permitted to get them this, as they are out of social bounds for the day, and rarely, if at all, are they fortunate enough to be given a posting where these three necessities are in working order. I was told that “at least the women are permitted to go home the day before while as the men are expected to stay over”. Small mercies, but as I mentioned earlier, these places are the back of beyond from anyone’s home – no-one I know has ever got a placement nearer where they stay. This means a long commute on both days.

Why women might be at a disadvantage

And you’ll say – but so many of them can be men too, it isn’t as if they single out women for this. Agree. But in our country, whether you like it or not, men find ways to get things done even in a strange place – think of toilet facilities – the most basic of them. Men can, and do go behind walls or buildings to do their business, and no one thinks any less of them. But women? And what if they are on their periods or pregnant or something similar? How do they manage?

And all of this is just in the day’s work, considering that nothing untoward happens. Where do they go for redressal if anyone misbehaves with them while they are executing this responsibility? Especially as it is highly unlikely that they already know one of the others on duty, in a place where emotions might run high?

These invisible women do a large chunk of the labour that runs our election machinery, contributing in a huge way to our democratic process. Isn’t it the government’s responsibility to see that they get basic necessities taken care of while they do their duty as citizens? Is it too much to ask when so much of money is poured into the whole process, so much of which goes into unmeasurable, unaccounted for expenditures? After all, these are human beings, not robots. Time to re-think how we (mis)use this (wo)manpower?

Image source: YouTube

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About the Author

Sandhya Renukamba

In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya Renukamba is fortunate to associate every day with a whole lot of smart and fabulous writers and readers. A doctor read more...

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