Don’t blame the malls

October 15th, 2009

Exercising one’s franchise is one right many Mumbaikars don’t want to enjoy, especially if it means jostling in serpentine queues on a hot October morning, waiting for your turn to cast your vote. Little womder then, that the city maintained its record of posting a sub-50 per cent turnout despite support from shopping malls–many remained shut during voting hours — and the fact that polling was held mid-week, and that offices were generally shut that day.

Could the numbers have been better, even marginally? My own experience at the booth seems to indicate so. The lady just ahead of me in the queue, who produced her ration card as proof of identity, was told bluntly that she wouldn’t be allowed to vote as the proof wasn’t valid. “Go back home and get something better,” she was told. Just as she was about to turn away, I intervened and told the election officer that she wouldn’t come back if she left without casting her vote. He wasn’t moved. Rules are rules, you see.

He was right, there is no dispute about that. The Election Commissioner has clearly stated that ration cards will be allowed as proof only if the entire family comes together to the polling station to cast their votes.

However, couldn’t the rules have been bent a little here? A photograph of each voter is in any case available at the booth and all the officer on duty had to do was to take one look at the photograph to ascertain whether or not the voter was genuine.

In places that have gained notoriety for booth capturing, bogus voting and other malpractices, the stick-by-the-rules approach of the kind displayed by the election officer is perfectly understandable. But Mumbai? For heaven’s sake this city is known more for its citizens’ apathy to get their butts to the neighbourhood polling station than anything else.

On the one hand the government is throwing away crores of rupees on high-decibel awareness campaigns to get a stubborn Mumbaikar to vote, on the other a genuine voter is being deprived of her fundamental right only because she didn’t tag her family along. Had she brought her family, would it have lent authenticity to the document she produced?

These were some of the arguments I presented before the officer. And he bought them. The lady was ushered in. So far, so good.

But wait, the story doesn’t end here. When my turn came, this guy seemed to have a problem with my press card. I had already waited quite long and didn’t have the energy to get into another argument. So I simply took out my PAN card and cast my vote.

That was yesterday, Octber 13, 2009. This afternoon, I googled to see what was and what wasn’t acceptable as valid proof, and found that my press card was perfectly valid. One website lists as many as 17 documents that can be used as identity proof. However, I guess it was the way the proof was described (see below for verbatim description) that confused the poor officer on poll duty.

Service Identity Cards with photograph issued to its employees by State/Central Government, Public Sector Undertakings or Public Limited Companies.

Isn’t a press card issued by a newspaper standard proof, if the publication is owned by a public limited company? I believe it is and that this time around, the officer was wrong.

I could have started another argument here, but relented, as the people behind me started making a noise. Couldn’t blame them — it was indeed a hot October morning. So i did the next best thing, Flashed my PAN card and exercised my precious franchise.

The point I am making here is that it would help if poll officers were instilled with the ability to distinguish not just between authentic and fake proof, but also between genuine and fake voters, before making this big hue and cry about Mumbai voter apathy. Who knows, how many have stopped visiting the local booth because of similar treatment meted out to them in previous elections?

 

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Barefoot in Babylon

October 3rd, 2009

With about a week having gone by since Dussehra, this one does come a tad late. Nevertheless, just thought I pen down my thoughts.

It was festival season all of the past two or three weeks in Mumbai, with Ganesh Chaturthi and Ramadan kicking off celebrations, followed by nine days of Navaratri and culminating in Vijay Dashmi. Of course, there’s more to come, with Diwali just around the corner.

Amid all this revelry, I couldn’t help but notice a new fashion statement, if you will, that seemed to have emerged during navratri. Gone were the classy mojdis and other fancy footwear. Mumbaikars everywhere were celebrating the festival barefeet and it was quite commonplace to see youngsters, who made the bulk of revellers, go around everywhere - on the streets, in restaurants, in parks — minus their shoes or chappals.

A friend of mine, who had been bitten by this new bug, said he was doing it for Durga maa. Accepted.

Me: So, did you bother to fast for the divine mother?

He: Umm, er… no.

Me: Okay, I guess everyone in the family is doing the barefeet routine, right? (I was just having a little fun at his expense, of course, and not really conducting an investigation).

He: Umm, no not really.

Me: Ah yes! It was the priest at the local temple then.

He: Don’t be silly, it was just the gang members (no marks for guessing that he was getting a bit irritated). 

I stopped right there with the subtle grilling but thought to myself, here was a typical case of succumbing to peer pressure. What’s more, during the course of the conversation, he was trying to pass his newly acquired trend as a exercise in piety.

What bothers me here is the source of inspiration. I know the gang he is talking about. They are the kind that have a tendency to exhibit more than the tolerable dose of machismo and fervour at every festival. They are the ones who’ll make the most noise, make the wildest gyrations while dancing, and occasionally get their paws “quite by mistake (ha ha)” on to an unsuspecting member of the fairer sex.

While their behaviour is definitely intimidating to anyone with a firm head on his/her shoulder, it works like a magnet for more impressionable, timid minds–such as my friend–who have achieved little even for their ages, but who would like to be “noticed”.

Unfortunately, it is this aspect of celebrating festivals that is more visible in festivals these days. Everything is either done on a very, very large scale in a vulgar display of wealth and power, or in a manner that intimidates the general public and tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

But it needn’t always be this way. This year, as in previous years, it always made me feel much happier to see small gatherings of people walking up to the beach at Dadar with Ganpatis no more than a foot in height. No trucks, no bands, no crackers. I think there is much more devotion in that than in all the noise and 1,000-ladi crackers and 30-foot ganeshas and durga matas.
 

 

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