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Getting a Voter’s Id Card in Haryana: My story

I do not remember being a political person ever. Unless of course, one counts a certain sense of right and wrong and a belief in the supremacy of the Constitution as being associated with politically interested. Politics to me, was not a very interesting vocation given that it had connotations of being associated with all kinds of corruption and unsavory crime. But that is not the only reason, why I did not manage to get a voter’s id card for almost 20 years. Every two years or so, I would move either cities, or jobs or residential locations. In that sense, I just kept postponing the ultimate proof of democratic license thinking that I will get one, when I will be more stable. My last lame reason was my complete involvement in my profession and therefore not having the time and patience to run around from pillar to post to get a voter’s id.

Therefore, when someone suggested that you can get your voter id card online, I jumped at the idea. Moreover, it seemed easy enough. All I had to do was to log on to www.nvsp.in, fill in my details, attach some identification and address proof documents, a photograph and my voters id was on its way in just a matter of 2 weeks. It also helped that I now had a permanent address.

That was 10th of February, 2019 and now we are on 13th of April, 2019 and I am still twiddling my thumbs regarding receipt of my voter’s id card. I have however managed to get my name included in the voter’s list so even if the voter id card does not arrive, at least with the help of my identity card, I will at least be able to fulfill my right and duty to vote. That achievement too however required my active intervention.

If you have logged on to the http://www.nvsp.in site, you would know that the portal has a provision of tracking your application. So, post my submission of voter card application on 10th of February, 2019, it said BLO appointed on 19th of February, 2019. Then the story becomes interesting. Apparently the BLO in question was an Aaganwadi worker who was with her fellow comrades was on strike due to non-receipt of expected salaries/incentives. I did manage to get the number of the BLO but for 2 weeks since the number was incommunicado, I did not get a chance to speak to her. Finally, someone told me about an app that could be downloaded on the phone and a helpline number 1950 which could be called. I then proceeded to do that and post multiple determined calls, the election executive relented and gave me the number of the main election officer in Faridabad. Then again, it was a series of calls to his office, before I managed a word with him, and he gave me some good news- the aaganwadi strike was off. The next day, I dialed the BLO and this time she took my call. It was a relief, but I can assure you only short lived.

As defined by the nvsp.in site, it is the BLO who is supposed to come to your residence to verify your documents. My area BLO flatly refused saying that it was not her job to go from house to house. If I wanted my card, I should show up at the Aaaganwadi center to get my details verified.  So I went looking for the local Aaaganwadi and landed there to find the village uncle of the BLO and some representatives from nearby societies all sitting on tiny kid stools. That was around 10th of March, 2019. She had some forms, but my name was not there. There was a lot of discussion on when I filled the form, how I filled it up and that it takes 4 months to get a voter id card etc etc. She had no answers, and neither was she interested in getting answers. At best, she could fill up the form and only then take some responsibility for it. She also told me that maybe the forms would arrive in a week or even might be automatically verified at the office. So, I sat patient for another 4-5 days and then having received no call from either the BLO, or the election office, made yet another call to the voter helpline. I was then told that the verification process by the BLO was compulsory and it was the duty of the BLO to do the house verification personally. It was of course clear that the lady BLO was in no mood to do that and would not even make a call. Further, there was no information when the physical verification forms would be received and acknowledged by her. Since she was doing purdah in front of her village uncle, apart from what could be like a possible monetary angle, patriarchy too was going to be a stumbling block in my quest for a voter id card.

Since I was determined to discharge my duty to vote only as an upright citizen, neither patriarchy nor corruption nor procrastination was going to get in my way to get my right to vote. My next stop was then the district election office. Armed with a fresh printout of my identity documents, I walked in the office and a bit of persuasion and lots of introduction about myself, one tiny process, but one giant obstacle in the process chart of getting a voter id card was lopped off. My application was not only field verified but also accepted in just 5 minutes on the 15th of March, 2019 after one month and 5 days of submitting my application. Within 3 days, I got an epic number. I checked my number in the electoral rolls and voila, it was there though I am not sure it had all the correct details.

Now starts the wait for a final physical proof of my right to vote, my voter id card. I assumed that once the epic number had come, the card would be there within 2 weeks. The election officer however told me that I would have to collect the card again from the BLO. One would have assumed that if they had your address, it could have easily been couriered. I was however very helpfully told by the voice at the other end of the 1950 helpline that it takes time to print election cards and it could easily take a month or so. In the meantime, post 30th of March, I have received two calls from the BLO village uncle who is our society neighbor to drop in at his residence to find out whether my card has arrived. I am not sure why I should be dropping in frequently at the residence of a village uncle. I understand that he is helping out and probably also has some future political ambitions, but right now it has to be between me and the Election Commission of India and their designated representatives.

So, I once again make a call to our BLO to find a way if she can intimate me when the card arrives. As usual, the BLO neither has a list handed over by the election office of whose cards have arrived, nor is interested to make a call and will definitely not tell you if your card has arrived even if you call her up and ask. I am expected to check in periodically at the aaganwadi to see if my card has arrived and that too only between 10 am to 12 noon and only if the BLO is present. This requires yet another couple of calls to the 1950 helpline who promises to check with the BLO why she will not make even a call of intimation and then revert back to me. I never got the revert but am sure he got a mouthful from the BLO probably asking him whether the ECI was providing any additional compensation for services rendered.

Since he did not revert, I had to revert, and it was obvious that the matter was status quo with only an added topped sheepish communication that it might take still another month for the cards to be printed. They also did not have any answers why they have no process either to send me a sms, or a call, or any intimation at all to collect my cards as and when they arrive. Apparently, the cards are printed in Chandigarh and arrive in batches and the election office has no Gantt chart nor tracking process to help figure out a way to even roughly estimate by when the card will arrive based on the date of generation of epic number.

Today is 13th of April, and 2 months, 3 days have elapsed since my online submission of voter id card application and still no sign or news of my voter id card. In the meantime, the Election Commission of India has conducted the first round of elections, banned the Modi biopic, stopped the telecast of the Namo channel, given notices to Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati and Maneka Gandhi and scores of other politicians. Maybe by next election, they will have been able to reach out to my BLO about the importance of facilitating access to a voter id card to the hapless voter in search of his/her right to exercise their vote and that neither purdah, nor patriarchy, nor corruption can come between us and our right to get a valid voter id card in Haryana. I finally close this story with a statement that I believe in the power of democracy and though it will take some time to function seamlessly, we will eventually reach there. This real life story has only been written with that aim in view.

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My Citizen to Citizenship Journey

If you are born in a country, you do end becoming a citizen of that country by virtue of your birth status. But citizenship as the way I see it, is more evolved than just birth status and sometimes goes beyond the narrow confines of nationalism. Of course I love my country, but then I love the world too and so also civilization and its preservation. Citizenship to me is something more godly, more spiritual and it comes from being one with the world and its denizens.

Growing up in a particular country also implies growing up with its biases , injustices, inefficiencies inequalities, and poverty. People experience it first hand and it also gets honed and cemented through reading, viewing and discussions. In my case, since I was teaching economics and its implications, I was slightly more exposed of it through articles, data and information that came into my inbox through human and electronic interfaces. Slowly it started hitting hard and it starting hurting as to why am I part of it, but still not doing something about it.

Everyone earns a living and it is important for basic survival and happiness, but can you earn a living and still practice citizenship. Are they ways that you can contribute besides just going to attend neighborly events, weddings, parties, religious gatherings as a social and political animal. Everyone does something meaningful every day of their lives, except only their vision, scale and commitment levels may differ.

What if you had to really convert the meaningful involvement into a significant citizenship quotient that could bring change. How do you do that is a question that requires a great deal of thought. For a critical mass to practice citizenship on a more evolved level, they need understanding, space, time, and even at times resources to devote. Unfortunately society is wired in a way that revolves around at daily routines, earning a living, some entertainment and family topped with a bit of ego boosting. In a way, policy makers, government, society mores also do their bit in perpetuating lifestyles and values that ends must making life more like a roller coaster rather than something that is deeply meaningful, altruistic and balanced.

Obviously in our own ways, a lot of us are trying to bring change in mindsets, attitudes and the lens with which we view life. I am trying to do the same and therefore my journey from citizen to citizenship is also evolving. At times it is spiritual, sometimes reflective and sometimes replete with tongue in cheek humor. Bear with me, together you and I just might end up getting somewhere.

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Citizens standing for Peace

14th of February 2019 henceforth, will no more stand for Valentine’s Day, instead it will be remembered as a day when a terrorist rammed hundreds of kg of RDX in a CRPF convoy killing 44 soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is an irony that a day meant for celebration for love turned thereafter, literally into an opportunity for self proclaimed nationalists to spew hatred and revenge. Some did it in television rooms, some in social media groups, and some even took to the streets to beat and intimidate. There were mobs, that not only took to gheraoing institutions to hound Kashmiri students, but also forced landlords to forcibly make these students vacate their rooms. Some others tried to find political legitimacy in market places by unleashing terror on helpless traders. There was mourning no doubt, but there was mayhem too by lumpen elements and some over-enthusiastic zealots keen to prove their nationalistic superiority through war-mongering.

Even after three days had elapsed, the madness had not stopped, although it had considerably been contained, with some contribution by disciplined institutional mechanisms of the establishment. However if something or someone made the difference in not allowing communal mindsets to completely take over the political discourse of the country, it was the role played by ordinary citizens across the country who rallied around for peace and restraint. Some gave clarion calls to debunk fake news and forwards, some shamed the hyper active war-mongers, and some willingly opened their homes to give shelter to students and persons who had been targeted. Some went to court to ensure protection mechanisms, some took to social media to negate the glories of aggression, some wrote moving stories of how families were destroyed in the wake of war.

The massacre was horrifying, but the intent of terrorism was far deeper than just the killing of 40 plus soldiers. It was an act of aggression to widen communal fault lines within society, and create more stooges of terror across the length and breadth of the country. This is where they faced the might of some ordinary citizens who rallied around the principles of the constitution and ensured that this country remains committed to the cause of peace and harmony.

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Citizen Science

Cornell University describes citizen science as a form of organized research as one in which members of the public engage in the process of scientific investigations which means asking questions, collecting data and thereafter interpreting results. It involves 5 steps (https://www.citizenscience.gov/toolkit/howto/#) which are as follows:-

1. Scope your problem
2. Design a Project
3. Build a Community
4. Manage Your data
5. Sustain and Improve

Citizen science is aimed at fostering collaborative intelligence and co-creation to facilitate both scientific and community-based solutions. In fact a new global citizen science secretariat was launched at the Science-Policy-Business Forum of the UN-Environment in December 2017. The formation of this network of network is also aimed at tracking the contributions of citizen science towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs)

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Citizens of the Indian Republic

The constitution of a free country came into force 70 years ago and the fact that we continue to hold it supreme is a cause of celebration.

But there is far more to celebrate as well and that is the rise of a movement that is progressively moving toward to being a more inclusive and empathetic nation. Take the decriminalization of Article 377, the demands of 33% reservation for women, the starting of an exclusive women’s party, the positioning of health and education for all as national policy imperatives and the making of sanitation as the right of every citizen.

Corruption is still on the radar and so is poverty and inequality but the narrative has somehow expanded to include the citizen voice’s as active participants of policy and development in achieving that. The right to information, right to work and right to education are powerful narratives that allow the citizen to demand what is his/her right rather than just being passive recipients of a government decreed largess.

There is something that is changing in this country and that is the voice of the citizen, more focused, more louder, more emphatic. It is not just roti, kapda and makaan, there are a whole set of issues to demand and engage. Rural distress, environmental degradation, protection of forests, natural habitats, biodiversity, quality education, clean food, clean air, jobs creation, gender diversity and equality, occupational safety and the list goes on. It is no more about bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger bank balances, it is the need that is felt across for quality public transport, affordable housing, financial inclusion and easy access to all public services. Social media and its proliferation in the hands of every citizen informs and engages in the form of comments, feedback and active involvement.

Despite these inroads in citizen awareness, yet there are dangers to citizens being misled and misinformed in the name of religion, state, party, caste, and narrow notions of nationality, These represent real dangers to progressive citizen movements that press for sustainable development, participatory democracy and inclusiveness in work and living spaces, expression and recognition.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to educate, empower, and engage with citizens, by citizens and for citizens to ensure that the Indian republic remains on course.