New Delhi's homeless cast their votes for the first time

Homeless people in New Delhi holdin up their very first voter cards. Photo courtesy of the NGO Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan.
 
On Thursday, voters in New Delhi cast ballots in India’s general election. For the first time ever, homeless people in the Indian capital were also able to participate.
 
Officially, there are around 60,000 homeless people living on the streets of New Delhi. However, organisations that help them believe the number is more than 150,000. Excluded from politics until now, thousands of them are now able to cast their votes during the legislative elections, which started on April 7 and run to May 12 across the entire country.

“A voter card can also be used to open a bank account”

Sanjay Kumar works for Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, one of the NGOs working with New Delhi authorities to register homeless people on electoral rolls.
 
These people already live on the margins of society, so we wanted to give them a chance to express themselves; if they don’t have a voice, people won’t worry about their fate. We started discussing this project with the electoral commission of Delhi in 2004, and a handful of homeless people were able to vote in legislative elections in 2009.

For this year’s elections, we registered 12,000 homeless people. The commission gave us registration forms, and as many homeless are illiterate, we helped them fill out the documents. We then had to visit them several times to check that they were staying at the address they had given us so that they would receive their voter card. In general, the homeless only gave the name of a street or a bridge, and the electoral commission agents went to find them to give them their voter cards in person.
 
The voter card is very important because in India, not only does it allow you to vote, it can also be used as a piece of identification. It gives the homeless access to basic services that they haven’t been able to receive until now, such as opening a bank account, for example.
 
NGOs worked with the authorities to get homeless people registered on electoral rolls. Photo courtesy of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan.

“They are happy to have a voice in the country’s affairs”

For Indu Prakash Singh, of India’s National Forum for Housing Rights, this document will, above all else, encourage others to treat homeless people as regular human beings.
 
I know a man named Sudir who does odd jobs at construction sites. He has been in New Delhi for 20 years and today lives in a homeless shelter. He received his voter card last December and he is really happy to be able to get involved in the country’s affairs.

He voted for the Aam Aadmi Party [the “Common Man’s” party, which is running on an anti-corruption platform] because he was impressed by their promises to improve the living conditions of homeless people by opening more shelters and creating more jobs.
 
In an election expected to be closely contested, the major parties are fighting to woo these new voters. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the major opposition party that is favoured to win, and the ruling Congress party of outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have each made promises to improve the lives of the country’s homeless.
 
NGOs that work with the homeless believe there are 150,000 of them in New Delhi. Photo courtesy of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Man Ho Kam (@kam_manho).
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