Article 326 of the Constitution provides that adult suffrage is reserved for “every citizen in India and who is not less than 18 years of age on such date as may be fixed in that behalf by or under any law made by the appropriate Legislature on the ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice. ” The basis for disqualification includes unsoundness of mind, which is vague and undefined. This, therefore, leads to the inclusion of any person with disability having any kind of intellectual, developmental or psycho-social disabilities to be disqualified from practicing their voting rights, even though their intellectual or psycho-social disabilities does not impede their ability to understand the manifestos of candidates and be able to make their own choice. The stigma of mental illness and retardation brings forth the thinking that it leads people to be incapable of participating in the electoral process, thereby denying them their full citizenship.
The Centre for Law and Policy Research recognized certain barriers faced by voters with disabilities both before and during elections. It includes the inaccessibility of information about the candidates, political parties, public meetings and consultations. This makes the voters skeptical in making their decisions. There is also a lack of voter registrations because voters are not fully informed about registration and the registration sites are inaccessible to them. During Election Day, polling stations also remain as a physical barrier. Election workers are also poorly trained in answering to the needs of voters with disabilities. There is also the question of secrecy of the ballot because of the need of the disabled to be assisted by a companion or polling officer.
Recommendations have therefore been provided to make the elections more participatory and accessible. These include providing information and other election materials in different formats based on the needs of the different types of disabilities; ensuring the existence of a record of all voters with disabilities registered in the different constituencies, which also includes records of their specific needs and ensuring that action is given to answer that need during elections. Polling sites and buildings should also be accessible, together with equipment, such as ramps and lifts. Training must also be provided to election officials in voter registration and polling sites with regards to the special needs of persons with disabilities.
On March 2016, the Banyan-Centre for Persons with Mental Health Issues cooperated with Disability Rights Alliance (DRA) and the State Election Commission in organizing a special registration camp at the Banyan-Chennai Corporation shelter for homeless men with psychosocial needs in Dooming Kuppam. Twenty-nine of the residents registered. A plan has also been made to set-up two registration camps at the other shelters of The Banyan at Kovalam and Mogappair. This is a move to make the elections more inclusive.
Reference: Centre for Law & Policy Research; Centre for Internet and Society. (2014). Enabling Elections: Making the 2014 General Elections in India Participatory and Accessible for Voter with Disabilities. Bangalore: Centre for Law & Policy Research & Centre for Internet and Society. Parthasarathy, V. (2016, March 19). People With Psychosocial Disability Can Vote Too. Retrieved from The New Indian Express: http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/People-With-Psychosocial-Disability-Can-Vote-Too/2016/03/19/article3334222.ece