News / Asia

In India, Women, Youth Turnout in Large Numbers to Vote

FILE - Women line up to cast their votes outside a polling station during the seventh phase of India's general election at Howrah district in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, April 30, 2014.
FILE - Women line up to cast their votes outside a polling station during the seventh phase of India's general election at Howrah district in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, April 30, 2014.
Anjana Pasricha
Women and young voters are turning up in large numbers to vote across India, pushing up polling percentages and possibly giving this election one of the biggest voter turnouts ever.  

When Ranjana Kumari, a well-known women’s activist, went to vote in her village in Uttar Pradesh state recently, she noticed a difference.  “I saw groups of women walking to the polling booth, with all very beautiful saris and very happy mood," she explained. "This was not the scene earlier also because of the violence and the threat of being intimidated.

"Now with Election Commission taking care of the violence, they have a lot of police personnel posted, so women are also going in large numbers to go and vote,” she added.
 
Election Commission data testifies to what Kumari witnessed. Propelled by women and young people, so far 110 million more voters have turned up at polling booths compared to the 2009 general election. In the 438 out of 543 parliamentary districts that have gone to the polls in the phased election, the polling percentage has topped 66 percent -- higher than in any previous election.
 
The Election Commission attributes the brisk polling to a huge voter awareness program (known as Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation) it has implemented. Director General at the Commission, Akshaya Rout, who supervises the campaign, said they focused on removing what he calls the “youth disconnect” and the gender gap.   
 
“We have engaged about I think more than 9000 campus ambassadors in all universities and big colleges, so that everyone is enrolled and everyone comes out to vote. We have women specific campaigns, we have got into “live” situations. In some areas there is a cultural tradition that women do not come out to vote, we have worked with the community there and men there and made sure cultural barriers are broken,” said Rout. 
 
The results were evident: in several states across the country, more women than men turned out to vote.
 
Ranjana Kumari said this reflects the deep desire among women to improve their lives in a country where many people are still poor. 

“There is across the country rising aspirations of women, not only in terms of education for their children and better livelihood, but also political aspiration," Kumari said. "They are understanding the value and worth of their vote, they are also looking at the future of the family and their children.”
 
However, many observers say the greater political engagement is not just a sign of vibrant democracy, but also the result of an extremely polarized election campaign.  
 
The opposition Hindu nationalist party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is leading a no-holds-barred campaign to gain power.  While he is projecting development as his main plank, there is heated, often angry debate among his supporters and detractors about allegations that he is divisive. The ruling Congress Party, which is fighting to ward off defeat, calls Modi a threat to the country’s secular future.    
 
Sociologist Dipankar Gupta said the higher voter turnout is a sign that these are charged times.        
 
“This polarization has led to very strong feelings on both sides for the status quo or against the status quo. There is this great degree of passionate involvement on the sides of the voters who want to see their point of view carried. It’s not a laid back campaign at all, every party, every nook and cranny, there is a lot of excitement, and commotion. When things are not quite settled, when there are issues to be resolved, when there is a chance that your vote might make a difference, that is when people come out to vote,” Gupta stated. 
 
There is no doubt that voter enthusiasm is at a new high. Political observers say this is the first election in which it became fashionable to vote, not just among the young, but also the urban, middle class, notorious for its voter apathy in the past. The proof: hundreds of selfies and photos with ink-marked fingers posted on Facebook and Tweets after each round of voting.
 
Sociologist Gupta traces the higher political awareness to an anti-corruption party - the Aam Aadmi Party - that made its debut in local elections in Delhi in December. While the party is not getting massive support on the national stage, Gupta said it helped draw out thousands of voters with its message that ordinary people can help change the system.
 
“That energized a lot of young people, and even older people to come out and vote. It broke that stigma of voting. It is this liberation of sorts that has carried through to this election. Voting is again kind of an “in” thing to do,” Gupta said.
 
Among those who had not voted in previous elections, but made sure they turned out this year is Raghav Gupta, a resident of Gurgaon near Delhi. The boom years of India’s growth were a great period for senior professionals like him, offering them opportunities for good career growth. But Gupta said that took a hit in recent years due to bad governance and corruption.  

“The feeling of, if you work hard you do well in your career changed to saying that not just working hard for your career but also making sure you select right people for the government is important, and so this time it was very important to go and out and vote for the right person.”
 
Whatever the motivation for voters, for the Election Commission, the large turnout is a cause for satisfaction. They hope by the time the last votes are cast on May 12, India will have witnessed a record turnout.

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid