This election season as the four states – West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu – and the union territory of Puducherry go for polls; the district of Goalpara in Assam is using innovative ways to woo the electorate to cast their vote.
Goalpara went to poll on April 6, in the final phase of Assam State Assembly Elections 2021. The district witnessed a poll percentage of 89.39. It is worth mentioning that this year the female percentage increased to 90.00% from 89.27% in 2016. The remarkable increase in polling percentage is due to the targeted SVEEP initiative undertaken by the district administration under the leadership of Smt. Varnali Deka, IAS, who is the District Election Officer and Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara district.
Four model polling stations
The district administration set up four model polling stations in each of the four constituencies on unique themes to deliver different messages to the voters. Each of them had children play areas to attract women voters. “When we were analyzing why women do not cast votes we found that having children made it difficult for them to leave their home. And taking kids to the polling station is also troublesome as the kids get bored and create trouble for the mothers. So we came up with the idea of setting up play areas at these polling stations which increased the percentage of women voters, which went higher than those of male ones,” informed Varnali Deka, IAS.
At Makhipara Govt JB School, Dudhnoi which was the polling station for 36-Dudhnoi (ST) Legislative Assembly Constituency (LAC) ‘Unity in Diversity’ was the theme since people at Dudhnoi are of diverse communities, tribes, languages, ethnicities and religions. An arch-gate made of bamboo and a display area with bamboo mannequins showcased the attire of various communities such as Rabha, Bodo and Garo.
The Baladmari Chah Bagan Prathamik Bidyalay which was the polling station for 37-Goalpara East LAC had the theme of ‘Red Carpet Area’ to emphasize the fact that one should take pride in voting and participating in the electoral process. A grand selfie zone similar to those at red carpet events or award ceremonies was also set up. A rainbow colored ‘Inclusive Sitting Area’ was also set up to highlight the inclusive character of voting which is a right irrespective of gender, caste or creed. The first hundred voters were greeted with a red rose to recognize their important contribution to democracy.
The Ambari Tiniali Bazaar High School at 38-Goalpara West LAC had the theme of ‘Bihu’, the most important Assamese festival. It had a unique 3D selfie zone with people dancing Bihu and the Rang Ghar in the backdrop and an arch gate adorned with Assamese traditional items.
The Haldibari ME Madrassa, the polling station for 39-Jaleswar LAC was themed on ‘Recycling’. An art installation of a dolphin riding a wave made of waste materials showcased the devastating effect of plastics on riverine flora and fauna of Assam. Saplings were distributed to all voters who came to the polling stations. An exhibition of recycled products created by schoolchildren of Goalpara was displayed as well.
Creative ways adopted to increase voter turnout
To engage women in the process of conducting elections several polling stations were completely “manned” by women polling personnel. Female presiding polling officers were gifted with Mekhla Chadar by the District Election Officer, Varnali Deka, IAS.
One week of targeted SVEEP was organized by the district administration to encourage voters to cast their vote. “Every day we used to visit communities and areas which had been traditionally reticent to come out and vote,” said Varnali Deka IAS.
A SVEEP boat was launched at Kachari Ghat, Goalpara on the final day. The boat toured interior riverine areas to generate awareness among voters. EVM sensitization was carried out on the boat itself. The vote percentage in those areas had traditionally been less than the district average.
An event, “Rang Barse- Celebrating Hues of Democracy” was also organized in one of the days where DEO celebrated Holi and Rangoli with the self-help group women along with other fun activities like painting of white canvas shoes and Mehendi where women incorporated SVEEP messages amidst intricate designs. Women also wrote poll date ‘6’ in all Indian languages to encourage people of all states voting at Goalpara. Combs with the poll date inscribed on it, were also distributed by the district administration.
An eco friendly houseboat called SVEEP-Bhel was also launched as a part of the campaign to motivate young voters to exercise their right to vote. A rainbow pride parade was also held in which the LGBTQ community was encouraged to vote. Women sex workers, drug addicted youths were encouraged to vote during this targeted SVEEP week.
The Divyang Sarathi App was launched by the district administration so that PWD voters can request for transportation to the polling station. On the day of the poll, all of them were provided with transport facilities, wheelchairs and Braille sheets.
It is encouraging to see that a district election commissioner leaving no stone unturned in generating awareness among the voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote and be a part of the democratic process that needs to be celebrated.