What the hills will vote for

How the Light and Life Academy in the Nilgiris documented the voices of the people for the Election Commission’s awareness programme

April 16, 2019 03:44 pm | Updated 03:44 pm IST

Have ballot, will vote

Have ballot, will vote

Every year the Light and Life Academy (LLA) in Lovedale, the Nilgiris, insists that its students engage in an outreach programme. “When the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) of Ketty, S Deepakmanobala, and Revenue Inspector S Babu approached us with a request to document the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) mandated awareness campaign to promote voting, it was the perfect CSR activity for us,” says Anuradha Iqbal, Founder-Director, LLA.

Iqbal Mohamed and Anuradha Iqbal with their students

Iqbal Mohamed and Anuradha Iqbal with their students

So 45 students along with three alumni, staff and faculty swung into action. “We received specific objectives and a list of do’s and don’t but were largely given the freedom to create our own ideas.” Iqbal Mohamed, Founder LLA, adds, “As photographers, we have a responsibility to use images that help society. And when we are able to work on assignment’s of this nature, the photography part is very simple but immensely gratifying.”

“This year, ‘No Voter should be left behind’ was the ECI’s slogan. ‘Why do people abstain from voting?’ ‘How can they be motivated to vote ethically?’ were just a couple of questions the team had to address. So we visited five Badaga Villages, two tribal villages, two colleges and parts of Coonoor town that came under 110 Coonoor AC in order to find out,” explains Anuradha.

The LLA documenters went a little further than being just mute recorders. They decided to find out what made people vote or not vote. So they engaged with students, elders, farmers and others. They organised little events such as football matches, rangoli competitions in colleges, a fashion show of children in a village so that people came together, and let their hair down.

They were pleasantly surprised by the people’s reaction. “Far from the cynical responses we anticipated, folks were very lucid about what they wanted. Especially the first-time voters. I thought they would be swayed by their parents but, on the contrary, many had it in them to change the mindset of their elders,” Anuradha says, adding that many wanted the elected representatives to be accountable and ensure they delivered on their promises.

The process
  • From planning to delivery took over 1000 hours
  • LLA created little snippets to share on social media and on the Government’s LED vans, WhatsApp and local channels
  • They will also be up on the Nilgiris District website and “Iqbal’s LLA” YouTube Channel

Speaking in one voice

Speaking in one voice

The underlying messages that emerged were fascinating, says Anu. “Many said their parents did not want them to leave the Nilgiris, more so after the Pollachi rape case. ‘Give us enough opportunities here and we will not have to go elsewhere,’ is what they said. Gender equality, economic empowerment for women, security for women and the possibilities of having more opportunities were but some of the concerns. It was a completely unscripted exercise that was an eye-opener. Especially among the first-time voters, political awareness was high and they were lucid in their views. Every person we spoke to had an opinion and voiced it freely. They also understood that if they want their needs fulfilled they needed to vote.”

For the students of LLA too, who come from across the country the documentation turned out to be much more than a mere CSR activity. “If it weren’t for this campaign, I may not have interacted with so many people! While they may have been a little shy in the beginning, they were willing to trust us and share their opinions,” said A Sathvika from Delhi. Her team-mate Ashwini Kumar from Jehanabad, Bihar, is now determined to engage in similar projects back home “to help in the election process and motivate people to make an informed choice.”

Sweep 2019
  • Gender sensitivity
  • Equality
  • Equal Opportunity
  • A prosperous Tea industry
  • A transparent government
  • Farmers’ rights
  • Women’s Empowerment

Coming from Ludhiana, Punjab, Divyank Sachdeva said not knowing Tamil did not come in the way of reading people’s emotions. “They believed that voting could bring about a good government and were conscious of their exact needs and were willing to take a stand for it,” he says, very impressed.

The documentation forced the students from LLA to re-examine their own jaded and cynical views about politics and the elections. Tanjul Sarkar from Mumbai felt it was refreshing how the project focused on getting people to vote rather than who they were voting for. “This project also got me thinking and I now feel I must take an active part in the process.” For Preetha from Chennai, it was heartening to learn that there were still good citizens. “I am inspired and am definitely voting 100% in this election!”

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