By Sharanya Gopinathan
What a sad and humbling situation.
In the 2015 general elections, Bangalore had an abysmally low turnout of 54 percent, compared to 2009’s similarly uninspiring 58.81 percent. But it now appears that Bangalore’s voters’ list contains only 15 percent of transgender people in the city, and as this report reveals, it’s because of how hard the government makes it to register.
Akshatha M, writing in The Economic Times, tells the story of Sandhya, a trans woman from KR Puram who “does not want to miss the chance to vote in this Assembly election”. She registered to be a voter in 2016, but one-and-a-half years and three unsuccessful visits to the Assistant Revenue Officer (ARO) later, she still isn’t on the list. Could you imagine having to go through this much trouble to register as a voter? Would you register to be a voter if it was as difficult and, as the report goes on to reveal, often acutely humiliating? It’s so appalling that while nearly half of Bangalore simply chooses not to vote, there are people who are forced to go through so much trouble just to get on the voting list. And worst of all, it’s the government machinery that puts obstacles in their way, in the form of requiring impossible documentation, and subjecting applicants to social stigma.
It reminds me of a remarkable story from earlier this year, about 20 and 19-year-old Suneeta and Munni Pottam, from Bastar. Suneeta and Munni left home on 27 December 2017, with “four pairs of clothes each, a patta of tiny black bindis, a packet of green chillis and Rs 1500”, in order to follow up with police about their complaint of sexual harassment and the beating of 20 women by security forces a week earlier. They were then harassed by police, and finally made their long way to Delhi on 9 January 2018, in order to plead the Supreme Court to take up their case regarding these extra-judicial encounters. Their parents didn’t even know they were in Delhi because they had no mobile reception where they lived.
My colleague at TLF mentioned at the time just how remarkable the faith some of the most marginalised and persecuted citizens of the country have in the essential machinery of our democracy is, and the lengths some of the most disenfranchised citizens, in the real terms of the word, are willing to go in order to access their rights, while others (you guess who) grumble about the inefficiency of back-logged courts and the heat of the sun on voting day. It’s so incredible that the country’s least serviced citizens are often the most willing to struggle through its democratic processes, and so acutely, painfully disappointing to notice how the machinery continually fails them. In the case of Suneeta and Munni Pottam, who underwent so much trouble and expense to travel to Delhi just to plead the Court, for example, it took the Supreme Court took less than 10 minutes to direct that the petition be heard by a different bench the next month.
The Economic Times’ piece also discusses just how difficult it is for transpeople to provide material address proof at voter registration offices, how it’s hard enough for transpeople to find accommodation in the first place and that owners often don’t want to sign agreements with transgendered tenants. Government officials at ARO offices are also ill-equipped to deal with the needs of transgender people, and subject them to further stigma, which discourages people from applying. It’s really depressing to think of how the country consistently fails its most oppressed and persecuted, and how much faith they still manage to retain in the system.
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