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Meerut: Come election season, the disgruntled make their grievances known by boycotting polls, However, this has become such a common occurrence that it fails to draw eyeballs. That's why, to draw the authorities' attention to their complaints, the differently-abled in Uttar Pradesh's Meerut came up with a new idea: Filing poll nominations en masse.
Meerut went to polls on 11 April, the first phase of voting in the Lok Sabha election. While no persons with disability (PsWDs) contested the election in Meerut, many of them threatened to file nominations.
This elicited hectic parleys by the district administration because if there are too many candidates in the fray, each polling booth will require multiple electronic voting machines (EVMs). A single EVM can have the names of only 16 candidates. A similar protest in Karimnagar constituency in Telangana saw over 180 candidates in the fray.
On 14 March, about two dozen PswDs attempted to enter the collector's office to enquire about how to file the nominations. Devendra Hoon, convener of the PsWDs' mass nomination drive, claimed that Meerut Police detained them when they were on their way to buy nomination forms. He said they were not allowed to enter the collector's office, adding that the administration was worried about the long list of candidates if all of them submitted their nomination.
Meerut SP Dr Akhilesh Kumar explained their detention by citing that the Model Code of Conduct was in place at the time and thus protest marches were not allowed.
But when nomination forms became available in Meerut, 14 PsWDs bought them for the first round. Soon, more than 60 forms were sold. Reportedly, PsWDs got a few hundred photocopies of the nomination form and circulated it among themselves to fill them up and submit them.
As they tried to submit their nominations, the administration realised it was staring at a logistical nightmare. They, along with the police, organised a meeting with the PswDs and tried to dissuade them from filing nominations en masse. At the meeting, PswDs representatives poured their hearts out, elaborating why they were forced to take this route.
They listed out their problems and the administration assured them it would try to resolve them soon. Meerut's superintendent of police, additional district magistrates, city departments, project officer and many other top officers took part in the meeting.
Additional district magistrate (administration) Ram Chander said the dispensation was trying its best to address all the grievances of the PsWDs. He said they were advised to field one candidate instead of many if they were keen on contesting the polls to improve their prospects.
On 14 March, about two dozen PswDs arrived at the collector's office and enquired how to go about filing the nominations. Kamala Bhargava
Though all of them withdrew their nominations, they believe this show of strength was necessary to be heard by a government which often ignores them.
Meerut resident Riyasat Ali, a PsWD, said they tried meeting their elected representatives in the past, but without success. He said there have been instances of netas outright ignoring them. Ali claimed PsWDs managed to get an order for the construction of a ramp at a public place, but a political party got the work order cancelled.
Nitin Maheshwari, a Meerut resident and a PsWD, said neither any government nor any party heeds them or acknowledges their basic needs. He said be it elected representatives or government officials, nobody is willing to look into their issues. He said his brethren duly cast their votes every election but their needs — ramps at public places for wheelchair access, specially designed public toilets, consideration in government jobs — are ignored. He said even availing of the handicap pension is akin to running a gauntlet.
While Meerut administration saved face when the PsWDs withdrew their nomination (ultimately, only 11 candidates contested polls), the differently-abled see no respite. Mohd Gulzar Saifi, who cannot walk, said many drivers and conductors of government buses in Uttar Pradesh don't like him travelling in their vehicles. He alleged that the differently-abled often have to bear humiliation at the hands of conductors, who treat them like second-rate citizens. What makes this worse, he said, is that they have no recourse, nobody to help them out. He rued that they are deprived of fundamental rights that are bestowed upon them by the Constitution.
Lalit Saxena, a differently-abled MA final-year student, shared that recently, State-run Chaudhary Charan Singh University advertised job openings, but had no reservation for PsWDs. He wondered how the differently-abled could aspire to get decent jobs when even government bodies aren't setting aside seats for them.
A look at manifestos of political parties shows that welfare of the differently-abled is not on everyone's agenda. While the BJP and the Congress manifestos detail the benefits they will introduce/implement for PsWDs, others like Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) flatter to deceive. It doesn't inspire hope among PsWDs.
While their PsWDs plan didn't materialise, Maheswhari believes the Election Commission of India should reserve a few seats for them in the Lok Sabha.
The author is a Meerut-based freelance writer and a member of101Reporters