There is need for “real action” and not mere “tokenism” to enable people with disabilities to have a meaningful participation in electoral processes, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) O P Rawat said on Wednesday.
Speaking at an international conference on the inclusion of people with disabilities in electoral processes, he said priorities for such people would have to take “centre-stage” when it came to the holding of elections in a democratic country such as India.
“We have to move away from tokenism to real empowerment and real action for ensuring meaningful and purposeful participation (of people with disabilities), not only in elections, but in all issues of governance affecting future participation in elections,” the CEC said.
With technological evolution and development taking place at a frantic speed, change was also occurring at a very fast pace, he said.
“Whatever is available today may not be seen tomorrow and that has generated a rat race and most of us who cater to that race find it very difficult to look behind for those who could not catch up,” he said.
Therefore, he said, the time had come to ensure that such people became empowered and ensure that they participated in the democratic exercise essential for inclusive development and growth the world over.
The CEC said the Election Commission and the poll bodies in the states were devising ways so that the disabled or specially-abled people were provided with all help by way of technology, facilitation, enrollment in the rolls and easy access to polling booths and to make their experience in this context second to none.
The CEC also talked about the “countervailing force of the democracy of universal participation” for creating an equal and livable world for all. “I would like to remind you that free markets and globalisation have given considerable material well-being, improvement in the quality of life and physical well-being but at the same time have resulted in an adverse impact on socio-environmental well-being and everybody is concerned about it,” he said.
To give a proper direction to the situation, “one will have to look for the countervailing force of democracy of universal participation of all groups and sections of society globally”.
“This will ensure that people’s representatives and government formed by those people’s representatives work towards that objective, that goal, where all entities including environment look up for a more livable world,” he said.
Speaking on the subject, Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa said people with disabilities often faced “barriers in participation”. The barriers, he said, may be societal stigma, discriminatory legal framework, infrastructure and patronising approaches by decision makers.
“Together these barriers lead to denial of equal access to electoral participation. We need to break these barriers and empower people with disabilities,” he said.
Another Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora, echoed his views and said the poll-body was trying to undertake more and more steps in this direction.