With less than three weeks to the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, an election officer is going the distance to make sure people turn up at polling booths to cast their votes. Preethi Parkavi, Tiruvallur Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) and the officer of the election in Poonamalle constituency, is doing her best to achieve 100 per cent voter turnout.
A few weeks ago, she visited the Adhigathur village in Tiruvallur taluk and helped the Irula, Narikurava and Arunthathiyar communities get voter IDs in a span of 10-12 days. Along with her team, Preethi set up a camp to register around a 100 people who had never voted before.
“I came to know of their plight when they submitted a petition seeking a Patta two months ago. They were residing in a poromboke land, and when I interacted with them I learned they don’t have any government ID cards, like a ration or Aadhaar card. So, I visited the area with an E-Seva operator and issued the necessary documents. After that, I thought why can’t we issue them a voter ID as well, because with Aadhaar and ration, you can apply for it. When I asked them, I was shocked to know that none from their community had exercised their right to vote. They thought they needed to submit several documents, pay money to the government and pass many procedures to attain a voter’s ID. They even had apprehensions whether authorities in polling booths would allow them to vote,” Preethi said.
“I made the EPIC operator work day and night to upload their documents within four days, before the EC website closed for applications for this year’s elections. As voter ID colour cards are only printed by the Election Commission, I spoke to senior officials and got a special link to get the card downloaded in our taluk office. This happens only in special cases; I convinced them about the situation of this community and authorities were very helpful in getting the job done,” she added.
Preethi further said she was delighted to see the joy in the eyes of the community members. She said some of them, including a 60-year-old man was happy to be able to vote for the first time. “They were so happy to see the cards with their photographs on it. We provided them tree saplings, and asked them to plant them in front of their huts to remember that they too have an identity and rights like everyone else,” she said.
On the occasion of Women’s Day on March 8, a pink booth was set up at the Aringar Anna Government Higher Secondary School in the Poonamalle constituency. The school has 18 booths to accommodate 18,000 voters in their area. Preethi came to know that the polling percentage of women in the area was much lesser than men, and decided to come up with a concept of a ‘Pink Booth’, one exclusively for women voters.
“This process existed even before, but not many people implemented it. I went through the previous elections and gathered data about polling percentages. I noticed that the voting percentage of women in this constituency was less. Many women think nothing is going to change by their vote and hence they avoid visiting the poll booth and sit at home to enjoy their day off. The thought process has to change. So I decided to do something to make the women voters step out and exercise their voting rights. We converted room no 312 into a women-only booth. We chose that room because it was visible from all parts of the school. We wanted to open this to the public on women’s day, so two days before we started with the painting work. I was very particular that the entire room should be decked up in pink. Right from the fans, walls, tables, and even small items like pins, ribbons, everything is in pink. Five women officers were appointed exclusively for this booth; they were gifted pink sarees,” added Preethi.
She said that as per the latest guidelines issued by the government, a polling booth should have only 1,050 voters and booth number 312 had more than that and hence, it was made exclusively for women with 650 voters. On the opening day, close to 100 local women were asked to come with their voting ID and the officers conducted a mock voting exercise, thereby teaching them how VVPAT machines work. The RDO says as many as 50 women are taking part in this awareness drive.
Apart from this, all the hotels in her limits have been provided with voting awareness tags. The hotels have been instructed to tie these tags to the food parcels which are delivered through online food delivery aggregators. The tags will carry awareness messages like ‘Voting is your right’, ‘Don’t sell your votes’, ‘If you can’t vote, you can’t complain’, etc.
“Earlier there were stickers attached to food parcels, but I thought it is of no use because people won’t have time to have a look at the sticker. They will tear it and throw it away but that’s not the case with the tags. I know it will annoy people because they need to make some effort to cut off the tag, and at least in those few minutes they might have a look at it. That solves our purpose.
“I sat for a couple of nights and came up with catchy slogans in English and Tamil. I even made the slogans in 10 different colours. A special team of officers has been formed to keep a tab on whether the hotels are adhering to the order. If any of the restaurants are found giving our parcels without tags, they will be penalized. But so far the initiative is working well, many big chain restaurants like KFC, Dominos, or Thalappakatti have been coming forward and asking us to provide more tags, they are also showing great interest,” Preethi said.
A couple of days ago, Preethi involved members of the transgender community to carry out an awareness drive in Poonamalle. Through their dance and drama, a team of transgenders from Kovilpatti explained the importance of voting. At Nasarathpet, Preethi was involved in street campaigning. She pasted voting awareness messages on motorbikes to encourage 100 per cent voting. She also released a giant gas balloon carrying awareness messages. She is also visiting a couple of colleges to raise awareness among students.
When asked what pushes her to do things out of the box, Preethi says she always aspires to be a person who can bring about change in society.
“I am standing on the road and giving pamphlets; visiting a remote place and educating many communities, people who see these things will wonder why I am doing these things. They think whether it is important for officers like us to take this much effort for the elections. I am doing these many things with the hope that the public will take notice of any one of these awareness campaigns and it will make them visit the polling booth to exercise their voting rights. I am confident that we will achieve 100 per cent voter turnout this time,” she says.