When I received the election duty letter on April 7, I was out of Mumbai and hence could not attend the training the next day. Within no time a letter was sent to me. It stated: "You have refused/failed to attend the said training without reasonable cause…You are hereby required to report to the Office of Asst. Returning Officer for election duty within 24 hours of receiving this letter or to show cause… Note that if you fail to report within 24 hrs under Section 134 of Representation of People's Act 1951 action will be initiated against you."
I rushed to the office and on hearing my reason, I was made to attend a three-hour training session. On day two (April 16), instructions, training and question-answer session was conducted by Vandana Suryavanshi, a very energetic, enthusiastic lady but very nasty, humiliating, ill mannered and rude. All others were very approachable and cooperating. We were given only packed biryani for lunch and a cup of tea in the evening. On the third day of training (April 23), we were given only glucose biscuits packets. There was water in only one of toilets on the ground floor and the windows had no cover. On informing the person-in-charge, he asked us to use the toilet on the first floor but on the day of polling we did not get any time to go up.
On April 24, the day of election, we reported at 5am. Only water was provided to us all day. In spite of several requests, we got tea only at 4pm. No breakfast or lunch was given. A member with high diabetes remained hungry for most of the time, which affected her health adversely. The material supplied was of poor quality and the stationary was insufficient. The stick to apply ink on the fingers was so short that our hands were stained. The lac stick to seal the EVMs and envelopes broke as soon as it was applied.
Polling was over by 6pm and we finished packing the EVMs by 7.30pm but left for the main school at Agripada, only at 9.30pm. Remuneration was paid as per our duties assigned – between Rs1,600 and Rs650. I received Rs1,300, including Rs150 for food.
Teams of 120 polling stations were accommodated in a small open area of the school which was covered with a pandal. The fans and coolers were useless due to overcrowding and the situation was chaotic. At 10pm, a few packets of potato chips and samosas were distributed and soon the drinking water also was over.
Women were told that they would not be given the remuneration if they left before 11 pm. The irony was that all members of the team were not required for the submission of EVMs. I was not allowed to leave till midnight and reached home only at 1.30 am. Members were suffering from dehydration, loose motion and heat stroke the next day as their duties were in open ground, under tin roofs, without proper water, food and rest. Some schools used for voting had closed years ago, so the toilets were dysfunctional, water supply was irregular and the ladies were expected to use the toilets only when the water was available on the taps. We never received the papers for postal ballot and when I complained to the officer, he said- so what, let it be, don't vote, just forget it.
What did the election duty give me? A dehydrated, breathless, extremely exhausted body, bad health, tension, stress, noise and air pollution, unhygienic toilets, insult and inhuman treatment and it took away my right to vote.
The author is a professor of political science, St Xavier's College