Postal ballot for exiled Kashmiri Hindus: ‘From inconsequential to consequential,’ a displaced Kashmiri Voter Writes
We have been able to enrol one lakh plus displaced Kashmiris, who can now vote from their original place of habitat in the Valley. No political party can ignore them, now. From inconsequential to consequential; displaced Kashmiri voter has come a long way
Around three decades back, my family and I fled Kashmir. I lived in exile in Jammu, Mumbai and London. Applying for my vote from Kashmir, in every election; never have I been able to vote despite, the provision being there since 1996. The process of voting was so fractured and officer dependant, that the majority of displaced Kashmiri was never able to vote. Soon we started enrolling voters from our temporary residence in exile, giving up our right to vote from the valley. For the last three years, I have been writing to ECI and the J&K Government.
I was finally given an appointment to make a presentation to a three-member election commission on 15th of March’2019 and on 16th, we worked with the Dy. Election Commission and his team to put the policy in place. Like any technology product, I brought the user perspective to the table, with ECI looking at the policy framework. And we came up with what can be done for the immediate elections and what can be done on a long term basis. The more technology is employed, the more transparency in our voting rights will come.
To the credit of the Chief Election Commissioner and the two members and Deputy Election Commissioner and his team; they put this draft for approval immediately. On March 22, it was approved that the local ERO, in any part of India, will accept our postal ballot form (Form 12C) and transmit it to the J&K Election Commission’s Assistant Returning Office. The displaced Kashmiri after receiving the ballot will send the vote by speed post, whose cost is paid by ECI; apart from this, M Forms for voting at polling booth spread across Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi will be available. Due to shortage of time, booths could not be increased. We hope that any pin code in India, which has two digit displaced voters, will be provided with a booth, in time to come.
Since we are seen as inconsequential in the Valley politics, due to not being able to vote there; no political party has given a ticket to a displaced Kashmiri in the current Lok Sabha election. All the candidates for the Valley Lok Sabha seats got announced by March 15, 2019. This scheme got approval a week later.
We have been able to enrol one lakh plus displaced Kashmiris, who can now vote from their original place of habitat in the Valley. No political party can ignore them, now. From inconsequential to consequential; displaced Kashmiri voter has come a long way.
(The writer is a displaced Kashmiri and an alumnus of IIT Bombay & London School of Economics & Political Science)