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If they could, why couldn't you?

While over half the city chose to stay home and ring in an extended weekend, a league of extraordinary senior citizens braved the odds to honour their commitment to democracy

Senior citizens ride to booths in palkis
While thousands of young citizens gave in to laziness and/or apathy yesterday, grey and wizened senior citizens, some crippled by age and physical incapacitation, didn't allow their advanced years to come in their way to the polling booths yesterday. And lifting their spirits and gnarled forms up to the waiting EVMs were makeshift palkis, organised thoughtfully by the polling authorities at different centres across the city. 


Air-lifted: 86-year-old Baburao Medge's resolve to vote faltered when
he saw stairs, but a makeshift carrier and neighbours came to his rescue.
Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

 
For Baburao Medge (86), a Ghatkopar resident, Thursday was all about honouring his commitment to democracy and casting his vote.

In spite of his fears about not being able to endure the physical exertion of standing in line, Medge put up a brave front and walked the talk, quite literally. "I had planned to accompany my son to the booth and take his help, but he failed to show up in time, so I requested a few of my neighbhours to help me to the Shanti Nagar polling centre early," said he.

However, Medge's steely determination wavered, when he saw the long and winding flight of stairs that he would have to scale to reach the voting booth.

 "I was worried about climbing the stairs," he admitted. 

 But help wasn't far behind. A chair was refashioned to form a makeshift carrier -- a palki --which then carried him to the waiting EVM.

"I heaved a sigh of relief when I learnt that there were improvised palkis for aged voters. There were long stairs, but they lifted me on the palki. It was heartening to see that some sort of arrangement had been made for old people like us, which is rare," said he.

His younger neighbours then heaved Medge up, willingly shouldering the burden of a man who inspired them.

One of them said, "We just worried that the exertion of scaling the stairs would take a toll on his frail constitution. But thankfully, all went well."

92-yr-old woman walks the talk
For 92-year-old Mainatai Amdekar, a retired schoolteacher whose zeal to vote would put many apathetic 20-year-olds in the city to shame, the path to the polling centre was fought with hardship and pain. The retired schoolteacher's arduous walk under the scorching sun was conducted in spite of bouts of giddiness and severe shortness of breath.


Down but not out: 92-year-old Mainatai Amdekar was indisposed, but
refused to give up on an opportunity to vote for her city


Her words punctuated by ragged breath, Amdekar said, "Voting is a fundamental right and a strong tool at the disposal of citizens in a democracy, and one must exercise this right, no matter what the odds."

Amdekar, who stays alone in her apartment, enlisted the help of her neighbour Sonal Daruwale to reach the polling booth.

Daruwale said, "Though Amdekar had lost her appetite, and wasn't keeping well at all, she chose to undertake the walk to the booth. I was moved by her sheer determination to discharge her duty as a citizen, and it was my privilege to escort her to the polling booth, so she could cast her vote."

In another similarly inspiring incident, an aged couple walked to the centre to exercise their fundamental right, in spite of their infirmities. Govind Ranade (91) and his wife Nirnmala Ranade (85) were seen struggling with their walking sticks as they trudged slowly but resolutely to the polling centre at Don Bosco School in Borivli (West), where they cast their votes.

A retired officer from Reserve Bank, Govind said, "We have always exercised our right to vote and will not let health ill health come in the way."

Paralysed freedom fighter gets glasses made for polls
Mahim resident Shanta Shripad Petkar-Divadkar's right leg is immobile and heavy as lead, but the 88-year-old's mind is still razor-sharp and active as quicksilver, just as it was over 60 years ago, when she participated in the Quit India movement to wrest the nation free from a foreign power.


Up and running: Divadkar's right leg is paralysed, but the handicap has
done little to keep her from honouring her committment to the electoral
process. Pic/Datta Kumbhar


A testimony to her penetrating clarity of thought can be found in the fact that Divadkar took the trouble to get a new pair of spectacles in time for the elections, just so she could see the symbols clearly on the EVM.

Speaking to MiD DAY, she reminisced about her youth in Karjat, where she and 50 other young girls had joined Gandhiji's force, to oust the British from the nation.

Divadkar said, "My right leg has been paralysed since 2007, but not my mind. I have traveled to foreign countries in spite of my age and handicap, so why can't I walk a few miles to cast my vote? We vote in order to enjoy the beneficences that a good government grants to its citizens. In my youth I had taken a pledge to die for my country to get independence, and I will honour that pledge for as long as I live."

Divadkar had kept track of the municipal election dates, and made sure she acquired her new glasses on the eve of the elections, journeying all the way to Colaba to obtain them.

Dr Vivekanand, her son, "Since India gained independence, she has not missed her single election."

Divadkar added, "I want to tell the youth not to waste time crying and complaining, but to try, and keep trying to bring about good governance. The only means to that end is voting. Unless you venture out of your house, how can you get the government you want?"

Errors in voters lists, work, & cynicism kept Mumbai away
Trying to diagnose the factors, if any, that led to the electorate's dismal performance at the BMC polls yesterday, MiD DAY sought out some experts to shed light on the mystery of Mumbai's abysmal voter turnout.

Nitay Mehta, trustee of the NGO Praja Foundation, said, "This is expected from Mumbaikars, who fail to show up even when they have a right to change. Ours is a city of people with short-term memories, who don't raise their voice until they suffer personal grief, but by then it's often too late. Some of the responsibility also falls on the political classes, independent and citizen candidates who fail to inspire faith in the electorate and limit the choice of voters. These independent and citizen candidates emerge before the voters hardly a month ahead of the election, having done nothing at all for the people of their constituency to gain their confidence and trust. Regular political parties have lost the trust of the public. It is the irony of the Indian democracy that people have the power to vote, but do not know whom to repose their faith in."

Sharad Kumar, trustee-in-charge of elections, at Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI), said, "We were anticipating a public turnout of over 50 per cent, but the number could have been improved had many enthusiastic voters managed to cast their votes. The apathy on part of the Election Commission is made obvious by the lack of prominent signboards directing voters to the polling centres. Even on the voters list, addresses are printed erroneously. We have been conducting extensive campaigns before the election, and have requested the public to turn out in large numbers. We also informed them that if they do not vote, they lose the right to complaint and bellyache later."

Ajit Ranade, trustee of Association for Democratic Reforms said, "The actual voting percentage is higher, if one takes into consideration the many errors in the voters list. Secondly, many private establishments did not grant leave to their employees, and those who were working did not have time to cast their votes. Finally, there is increasing awareness amongst voters of Mumbai that the BMC alone is not responsible for infrastructure and development in the city, which is increasingly being influenced by entities like MMRDA and the state government."
 
- As told to Vinod Kumar Menon

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