“As far as possible I try not to take anyone’s help while casting my vote,” says 47-year-old Balaji Khot from Nigdi. Totally blind, Balaji travels daily from Nigdi to Pune railway station to sell chikkis for a living.
“Even if my son accompanies me, I will double check all the names and numbers and then press the button (on the EVM),” says Khot, who feels that every citizen must cast his or her vote.
Manda Bajare, a 46-year-old visually impaired woman from Urali Devachi who sells cutlery at the railway station cannot understand why the authorities cannot make it simpler for blind persons to vote.
“I am totally blind and can read Braille. Why can’t we have Braille-enabled electronic voting machines,” she asks. “It is my vote and I need to know who I have voted for. What If I tell the polling officer at the booth to press the button for a candidate from a particular party and he or she presses the wrong button instead?” she asks.
When contacted, Deputy District Election Officer Apurva Wankhede said that ballot papers in Braille have in fact been printed and given to polling staff at each booth.
“They will be able to read the names of candidates and numbers printed against them, the party symbols. They can read the ballot paper in Braille and then cast their vote by pressing the button,” Wankhede said. She added that special facilities, including ramps and helpers, have been provided for physically challenged persons as well.
N P Pandya, President of the Poona Blind Men’s Association (PBMA) said he had not missed a single election, and had cast his vote, albeit with the help of another person. “However, visually impaired persons should be able to exercise their franchise independently and fearlessly,” Pandya said, adding that ballot papers in Braille would be of immense help for first time voters.
The 7.8 million blind people in India make up 20 per cent of the world’s 39 million blind population.