Right to Vote

“Chaos would prevail in India if we were ever so foolish to leave the natives to run their own show. Ye gods! What a salad of confusion, of bungle, of mismanagement, and far worse, would be the instant result”

– E.H.D. Sewell (Cricketer and Journalist)

These comments were made prior to independence of India. Similar thoughts were expressed in orations delivered by many prominent personalities of the time like John Strachey, Rudyard Kipling & Winston Churchill. Today, India has outgrown the wildest expectations of such skeptics. Today, its a lively democracy build on foundations of Peace & Harmony surging both politically and economically on global front. All these successes and achievements stem from a gamble that played out just right 62 years ago which Sukumar Sen – the first election commissioner of India – rightly suggested at that time as the ‘biggest experiment in democracy in human history’.

This experiment was to adopt universal adult franchise immediately after independence. The west in general had taken a route of franchise based on property, education or gender initially followed by universal suffrage later on. Even the most ardent supporter of democratic governance in modern times, USA, adopted it as late as 1965 with The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To allow the 176 million strong electorate, most of which was illiterate, to choose the government that will shape the future of the nation was indeed a bold move.

The then prime minister, Pandit Nehru was one of the most vocal supporters of the idea but even he could not hide his uncertainty in the wake of elections. Addressing the UNESCO symposium in Delhi in 1951, he said “Democracy is the best of all the various methods available to us for the governance of human beings.” but concluded with doubts that whether ‘the quality of men who are selected by these modern methods of adult franchise gradually deteriorates because of lack of thinking and noise of propaganda..‘. The success of the elections and subsequent formation of the congress government – despite aggressive efforts of regional and communal forces marred by vested interests – gave Indian democratic setup a solid beginning beyond expectations of everyone.

Since then, the right to vote has been exercised time to time by the Indian masses to give their verdict on events of National or Regional importance be it the victory of E.M.S. Namboodiripad in Kerela in 1957 or the post emergency defeat of Congress in 1977. The right to vote is no doubt the most powerful tool that the democratic setup offers only if one can stay clear of ‘lethargic thinking or noisy propaganda’.

Its 2014 and once again the time to exercise the right has come. No matter how many excuses the ‘intelligentsia’ of our society give to not vote, they cannot escape the fact that they are the ones with responsibility to think for the ones, who might not be able to do it for themselves. People who complain about governments the most but are too lazy to get out of bed for an hour to vote, expect a government that handles a billions of tax rupees responsibly at the same time forming progressive policies. But they let the government to be chosen by people with a rudimentary mind setup who vote for caste or religion.

The intellectuals of our nation have to realize the importance of their vote. Its a thoughtful vote, untouched by prejudices, that makes the difference. When a famished poor daily wager votes for a plate of food, its not his fault. But when the doctors & engineers, managers & teachers, avoid voting out of lethargy then its a cardinal sin. As Theodore Roosevelt said “Vote is like a rifle whose usefulness depends upon the character of the user”. The biggest fear of a corrupt politician is not Jan Lokpal or RTI or Anna Hazare. Its the fact that no matter how much money one person holds, he has only one vote!

Missing Women

In Dang district, at Gujarat- Rajasthan border, 8 brothers of the same family are married to one girl, Sarup (1). Three months old female fetus is found in sewage canal in Udaipur, Rajasthan (2). Eligible Jat boys from Haryana travel 3,000 km across the country to find themselves a bride. With increasingly fewer girls in Haryana, they are seeking brides from as far away as Kerala as the only way to change their single status. Where are the girls? Have they gone missing?

graph 1
Source – Census 2011

It was Amartya Sen, who minted the phrase “Missing Women” when he found that the number of women with respect to men was way below the levels of natural selection in developing nations, particularly India. The biological or natural norm of sex ratio at birth is 105 or 106 boys to 100 girls. Ideally, the child sex ratio should be around 950 girls per 1000 boys. Indian child sex ratio seemed normal till 1981, after which there has been a significant decline – at the all-India level (from 945 in 1991 to 914 in 2011) and in the individual states too.

According to the World Bank’s “World Development Report 2012”, the gap between number of women dying compared to men is estimated 3.9 million every year in low and medium income countries (3). India has the second largest number of missing girls at birth; girls who should have been born given the natural selection ratio. The preference of son stemming from customs like dowry along with easy availability of technology of sex selective birth have resulted in a phenomenon which Amartya Sen describes as Pre-Natal discrimination. Although there has been progress in terms of infanticide (murdering girl child after birth) but the state at birth remains grim. It is very important to look at data at birth because these girls would tomorrow constitute the 0-6 or 6-14 age group & given the prejudice at each node, the cumulative picture 20 years from now can be very dark indeed.Missing Girls - Source WDR 2012, World Bank.

Missing Girls – Source: WDR 2012, World Bank.
Excess Female Deaths (in thousands)

The picture becomes even more horrendous when we begin to dissect the national data on regional basis. According to UNICEF, since 1991, 80% of districts in India have recorded a declining sex ratio. Maharashtra, Gujrat, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana which are the most prosperous states in north and western India, have recorded a decline of over 50 points in sex ratio. Sex ratio in district of Daman is a shameful 591. Where as Haryana tops the charts among states with lowest sex ratio with a score of 861. Another point to observe is that the sex ratio is merely 900 in urban areas compared to 946 in rural areas (4). It is unfortunate that the “well educated” and “civilized” people of the urban areas and the relatively developed states are inconsiderate about this matter.

These numbers challenge the morality of our society. Society which takes pride in calling itself rich in culture and tradition. This is certainly not the culture OR tradition that has been passed on generation after generation for 10,000 years. Its high time, that we wake up to this challenge and act decisively. We are a society that has foundations in wonderful family tradition and family is incomplete without the daughters.