'If Sachin, Jaya in Rajya Sabha, why not disabled persons?'
As the political atmosphere heats up, one community feels left out in the cold. Differently abled people form a large group of voters but their needs are often overlooked by political parties. George Abraham is the founder of Score Foundation, a non-profit organization working for visually impaired people. Having lost his eyesight when he was 10 months old, Abraham's focus is on helping the visually impaired live with dignity. Speaking with Rohit E David, Abraham discussed interventions to help the differently abled vote, why Parliament should have such representatives — and politicians who interest him currently:
Please tell us about your experience as a visually challenged voter? When did you go to vote last and was it a difficult exercise?
Well, that was not a very bad experience as media personnel were covering my voting during the UP state elections in 2012. The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) did not have Braille but thankfully, the officials allowed my wife to accompany me.
The only problem i encountered was finding my name on the voting list, which was a tough task. For a visually impaired person, this could actually become too tedious.
Can you suggest solutions to the Election Commission for making the electoral process friendlier towards differently abled people?
Firstly, there are certain flaws in the EVM machines. They do not have an option of Braille. These could be re-designed in a manner where talking software could tell disabled people about the list of contesting candidates. And we should have proper access at the booths, so that such people can move freely within polling stations.
Actually, the Supreme Court has given a set of guidelines to the Election Commission to help disabled people exercise their vote without hindrance. According to these, separate queues should be set up for disabled people and full facilities should be provided to take wheelchairs inside polling stations. At booths that don't have such facilities, temporary ramps should be set up.
And very importantly, polling personnel should be sensitised about the special needs of disabled people.
Do you think differently abled people's aspirations are not addressed by political parties?
Well, we are not seen as a vote bank. There's not much value attached to people with any disability — but if people with disabilities are well looked after, the country would be a far better place.
How would the visually impaired community benefit from having a representative in Parliament?
A disabled representative in Parliament means we will be visible to politicians — our presence in the House would mean the mindset of people around us would change. And we would not only speak on issues related to us but on foreign affairs, educational policy and corruption too.
If Sachin Tendulkar and Jaya Bachchan can be nominated to Rajya Sabha, then a person with a disability can be nominated too.
Let's talk politics — who appeals to you as India's next prime minister?
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is favoured by the industrial group but i don't know how popular he might be amongst the rural population. Meanwhile, at another level, the ideology of Aam Aadmi Party is appealing to the janata — but it remains to be seen if they can sustain themselves and whether Arvind Kejriwal can live up to what he has said.