Eighty-nine-year-old Rani Kar looks frail, but is a woman of indomitable spirit. This Lok Sabha polls, she has taken it upon herself to make sure that people can exercise their right to vote without fear in West Bengal’s Raiganj, which goes to polls on Thursday.
It all began in 2017 when Rani failed to cast her vote in the civic polls because of violence at the booth. Sharing details, she said, “In the last civic polls, I went to a local primary school around 10 am. My neighbours were also there. The booth was crowded. We were waiting in the queue when some goons lobbed crude bombs. Everyone panicked and started running. I had to return home. I was disappointed and angry that I could not vote. I decided that I must do something about it.”
The 2017 civic polls and the 2018 panchayat polls in West Bengal witnessed violence and the Opposition alleged that people could not vote at many places.
The incident Rani witnessed took place at Collegepara Government-sponsored Primary School. Her husband, a freedom fighter, who died in 2007, had donated the land and founded the primary school.
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“I was at home when the idea of a human chain struck me. Initially, I had doubts if anybody would bother to listen to me. Then I spoke to my son and some neighbours. They supported me and I decided to go ahead with my plan,” said Rani.
On April 11, a day before the first phase of polling, her sons accompanied Rani to the office of the district magistrate who is also the district election officer and submitted a letter, seeking permission to form a human chain in support of the constitutional right of citizens.
Next evening, Rani and her sons made a few placards and hit the streets. They were joined by a large number of people. From fruit sellers to teachers to shopowners and children, many people gathered and formed a human chain about a kilometre long.
Poll violence a prickly issue
West Bengal had seen violence during civic and rural polls in 2017 and 2018, prompting opposition parties to allege that not only were their candidates not allowed to file nominations, but even voters were stopped from going to the polling booths. The question being asked by many ahead of Thursday, when Raiganj, along with Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, votes, is whether they will be allowed to vote peacefully.
“I was surprised to see so many people. There were people I did not know. I tried to highlight the need to ensure a free and fair election. How can goons rob me of my democratic right to vote? I hope this time the administration ensures proper security. Everyone here is scared,” said Rani, who lives with her two sons, Ashish and Amit, daughter-in-laws and three grandchildren. She has two daughters who are married and live elsewhere.
“It’s her idea. We just helped her. Everyone in Raiganj responded to her appeal. We are proud of her,” said Ashish.
“Despite my hectic schedule, I could not resist being part of the human chain. I heard that an elderly woman had given a call for free and fair vote and I just had to be there,” said Anindya Sarkar, a doctor.