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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to an enhancement or regression of democracy on the Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid