By TwoCircles.net Staff Reporter
Almost exactly a year ago, TwoCircles.net had reported that ahead of the state elections in Karnataka, close to 18 lakh Muslims could be deprived of their voting rights due to various issues related with their voting cards. A year later, the problem seems to have magnified manifold as the nationwide data suggest that the names of close to 25% of all Indian Muslims are missing from the list. What is even more surprising is that no political party and no leader, Hindu or Muslim, has raised this issue strongly in the run-up to the elections.
In fact, the only reason we are aware of this issue is thanks largely to the efforts of Syed Khalid Saifullah, the founder of the Missing Voter App and CEO of the Hyderabad-based RayLabs who undertook a nationwide study to find out how many Muslim and Dalit voters existed or were missing from the voting list.
His findings were astonishing: close to 15% of all voters and 25% Muslims are not present on the electoral list. This is also not a problem limited to Muslims alone; in fact close to 4 crore Dalits out of 20 crore eligible Dalit voters are also missing from the rolls.
In a conversation with TwoCircles.net, Khalid said he first noticed the discrepancy when lakhs of Muslim names went missing from the voter’s list in the 2014 parliamentary elections. He studied the state of Gujarat where lakhs of Muslims were reportedly unable to vote as their name was not on the electoral list. It is also important to remember that a huge proportion of Muslim voters were missing in 16 Assembly Constituencies of Gujarat where the BJP won with a margin of fewer than 3,000 votes.
This led to the launch of the Missing Voter’s app. In a conversation with TwoCircles.net, Khalid said he first noticed the discrepancy when lakhs of Muslim names went missing from the voter’s list in the 2014 parliamentary elections. He studied the state of Gujarat where lakhs of Muslims were reportedly unable to vote as their name was not on the electoral list. It is also important to remember that a huge proportion of Muslim voters were missing in 16 Assembly Constituencies of Gujarat where the BJP won with a margin of fewer than 3,000 votes.
This led to the launch of the Missing Voter’s app. This free App has the details of all the street names of constituencies, the number of households in each street and the number of voters in each household.
The App can be used to identify missing voters, do a household survey and apply for a new voter id online. It is possible to download the Missing Voters App from the Google play store or after giving a missed call on 8099 683 683.
“The process to make a new voter ID through the App is simpler than that on the ECI website…we have looked at over 800 assembly constituencies and identified close to 1.6 crore Missing Voter households. We now have more than 9,000 volunteers registered on the App and 25,000 new Voter IDs,” he said.
They have even seen success due to the app. In the state elections in Karnataka, data showed that 18 lakh Muslim names were missing. Some 12,000 volunteers registered to enrol more voters. Up to 12 Lakh new voters were enrolled in a fresh drive over three weeks.
Registering so many voters would have a definite impact on the final result. He added that there were three reasons for the present scenario including the political conspiracy related to form 7, the vulnerability and helplessness of Muslims and Dalits and the ignorance on the part of literate people.
‘Our fight is to ensure every Indian gets their fundamental right’
Smita Chaudhury is a social worker and a teacher in Mumbai, but for the past two months, she has been on a mission. She is one of the thousands of volunteers that have been using the App to help the disenfranchised people get back on the electoral roll. But she is not just one of the volunteers; she has in fact been the most successful volunteer and has in fact helped over 1,500 people get enrolled. In a conversation with TwoCircles.net, Chaudhury explains how she got into this work. “Initially, I too thought that the App would be a complicated process. But when you actually use it, you realise how easy it is to help people. I am a social worker and have always worked with women in my region so this was almost an extension of my work,” she says. Chaudhury added that a lot of people were missing out on something as important as voting due to very small issues like a wrong spelling of the name. “Then, there were people who had been living on rent for decades and had agreements too but still they were not voting because the authorities had asked for a ration card, which of course they do not have,” she added. “Our focus is mostly to ensure that the missing documents are submitted and that the concerned authorities come for an evaluation,” she says.
Another volunteer, Dilshad Chougule from Mumbai, says that over the past few years the ‘value’ of election IDs has come down which has further pushed people away from getting one in case they do not have one. “Earlier, election ID was the most important photo ID apart from passport but now we have Aadhar Card which has become very important. A lot of people whose names are missing believe that they are not losing anything by not having an election card. However, it is our work to create awareness about the importance of voting. People, especially women, have been left out because of various reasons and it is our work to ensure that they get their rights,” says Chougule.
Talking about the nationwide pattern, Khalid points out. “If you are a Muslim in Uttar Pradesh with four voters in your family, chances are that only three will get to exercise their right, while fourth person’s name would either be missing or excluded from the electoral rolls.”
Similarly, in Tamil Nadu too, every fourth Muslim person’s name is found missing from electoral rolls. The situation Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Gujarat and Karnataka, from where the first voices were heard about Muslim names missing from electoral rolls, is no better.
Given the fact that these are such major issues, one big surprise has been the lack of any response from bodies that represent minorities and Dalits. But Khalid says, “So far despite our reports, no one from the Minority Commission or SC/ST Commission has not contacted us…we are happy to hand over our entire data and findings free of cost but we are still waiting for them.”
Over 2 crore women missing from the electoral list
Three states – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan – accounted for more than half of the 2 crore missing female voters. Southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu fare better, according to a report from the BBC.
Analysts say that the missing women voters translate into 38,000 missing women voters on average in every constituency in India. In places like Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and a key bellwether state, the figure swells to 80,000 missing women in every seat. “UP is the worst performing state in this regard and across all our parameters: it has the most number of Dalits, Muslims and women missing from the electoral rolls,” Khalid added.
“Given that more than one in every five seats are won or lost by a margin of fewer than 38,000 votes, the missing women could swing the results in many seats. The absence of a large number of women also means that India’s electorate would be higher than the 900 million people who are eligible to vote in the summer elections. If the sex ratio in a constituency is skewed against women and the average voter is male, the preferences of female voters are likely to be ignored,” the BBC report said.