For Selvarani (86), sipping sugarcane juice outside Olcott Memorial School with her daughter Devi (35) after they voted, it was an act of celebration. “For the first time in all these years of voting, I felt people understood us, even if it was for a short while,” the elderly woman said.
Ms.Devi, a fisherwoman with a physical disability, was happy too, as she and her mother were not only exempted from standing in the queue but also escorted to the booth.
Many senior citizens and persons with disability who face problems during voting said they found the voters' assistance booths and the officials quite helpful this year. However, many also expressed their discontent over goof-ups in electoral rolls, the procedures, and the absence of facilities for them at some of the polling stations.
S.Rajan (85) and his wife Lakshmi (78) were informed by the booth officials at Anna High School, Besant Nagar that their names were not in the rolls and were asked to go to another booth, only to be shunted from there to another. “We have voted here for over forty years, now they say we do not belong here. They are not even ready to flip through a few pages to check,” Mr. Rajan said.
While elderly women like Muthammal (93), voting at Sri Sankara School, R. A. Puram was allowed to vote as soon as she arrived, some complained that many elderly citizens were refused the privilege during the morning hour when the voter turnout seemed to be heavy. “Other voters raised objection. We then started allowing only the very old to vote first,” said a polling officer.
Senior citizens in suburbs had a tough time as they had to wait in long queues to cast their vote. Elderly voters at Kings Matriculation School, Kalpalayam, Madhavaram, climbed steps with much difficulty and stood in the queue for long hours. Many senior citizens rested on the parapet walls until their turn to vote came.
In several booths in Thousand Lights, T. Nagar and Perambur constituencies senior citizens were saved the trouble of having to wait in queues. Police even allowed the vehicles in which senior citizens came inside the campus.
However, Mary. J. a voter with walking impairment had to stand in a queue at Government High School in Kannagi Nagar for almost two hours under the sun. “It is not new this year. I just hoped there would be at least a shamiana this year, but there wasn't one," she said.
Speaking for voters with visual impairment, C. Govindakrishnan, founder of Nethrodaya, said “We have been trying to convince the Election Commission to introduce an audio system with headphone. More people have low vision and cannot read Braille. Providing a companion to cast my vote is a mockery, a tokenism.”
While many polling booths had ramps, including makeshift ones, there were some that did not have any, including in Kolathur, Ambattur, Madhavaram, Villivakkam and Virugampakkam constituencies. Saraswati Munusami virtually crawled up to her booth. “I have voted for several years now. Just that my health does not cooperate now,” she said. Seeing her effort, a few men at the Ramakrishna National School in Royapuram constituency carried her to the booth, in her last stretch.
Security personnel, police officials and civilians helped to move wheel chairs and assist persons with disability. D. Balajee, who voted at Sri Sankara School, Adyar had concerns.
“People always lift my wheel chair at polling booths with no ramps. But when the promised facilities are not provided, not many like me venture out to vote.” T. Rajagopalan (93) who had come to vote at Chennai Middle School, Damodarapuram, Adyar said, “Good my wife did not accompany me, both of our names were not there.”
(With inputs from Vasudha Venugopal, Meera Srinivasan, Liffy Thomas, K.Lakshmi and R.Sujatha)
Keywords: Tamil Nadu assembly polls