BMC Election: Voting becomes uphill task for the disabled in Andheri

Residents of disabled home forced to drag wheelchairs to polling booth 3 km away

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Satish Patil was among the few who braved the uphill journey to the polling booth 3 km away. Pic/Rane Ashish
Satish Patil was among the few who braved the uphill journey to the polling booth 3 km away. Pic/Rane Ashish

For the residents of Andheri's Cheshire disability home, polling day brought a sense of crushing defeat. For years, the wheelchair-bound inmates simply had to go next door to the Arnold school to cast their vote. This year, however, their centre was moved to the Maruti school 3 km away — too great a distance for them to wheel over to by themselves, especially considering some stretches are uphill.

Out of the 19 inmates, only four were able to cast their vote after waiting for sundown. "We couldn't gather the courage to drag ourselves on our wheelchairs so far in the scorching heat. At the end of the day, some of us ventured out, and thankfully some passers-by witnessed our condition and pushed us to the venue. But not everyone at the home had the strength to do this, especially senior citizens," said one of the residents, Satish Patil (49).

Fourteen of the inmates are senior citizens, many of whom became disabled after accidents or suffer from polio. Hirderam Sharma (50), who lost his leg in an accident, told mid-day, "We are a section of people who hardly get to have a say in governance. We want a leader who will represent us well. We read the papers and are really interested in politics and hold discussions among ourselves. But we feel really helpless in this situation."

The disability home was established in the 1960s, and has always pushed its residents to vote, but staffers said that since the last two years, there has been haphazard allotment of centers, leaving them in a lurch. "We wish the government would make some kind of provision or at least give our old centre back," said Satish Shingade, coordinator of the facility.

Satish said that BMC officials had even visited the home to take down the voters' details, and they had mentioned their concerns, but nothing came of it. "About 4 months back, a lady official had come and noted all our details. We had told her about our situation, but still we were allotted a centre so far away," he added.

"Political parties spend crores and crores of rupees on campaigns and promotion, but where does all the money go when something like this happens? It is sad and shameful. They are totally helpless. At least mini buses should have been organised for these people," said activist Ashok Pandit. State Election Commissioner JS Saharia passed the buck to the BMC. "We wouldn't know of each case. The BMC commissioner should be asked about it."

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