Newdelhi:214/1/19:Flagging off the 8th National Voters Day Celebrations scheduled to be held on 25th January 2018, Election Commission of India (ECI) hosted a one-day International Conference on the subject ‘Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Election Process’ in New Delhi on 23 rd,January 2019.Delegates at the Conference included Chairpersons/Commissioners / Senior Officials of five Election Management Bodies (EMBs) viz. Australia, Bhutan, Guinea, Moldova & Zambia and Heads of two International Organisations viz. International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
In his Inaugural Address, Chief Election Commissioner of India Mr. O.P.Rawat, reiterated ECI’s resolve to uphold the sanctity of free, fair and peaceful elections in keeping with the rich democratic traditions of India. He stated that ECI is committed to the objective that the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) have the right to full electoral participation, on the basis of equality and shall not be discriminated against on any ground. He pointed out that it was high time to move away from tokenism and ensure participation of PwDs in exercising their franchise. He highlighted the major initiatives taken by the ECI to ensure provision of basic facilities at the polling stations making them conducive for Persons with Disabilities to exercise their right to vote. He expressed the hope that today’s Conference would provide useful takeaways for all stakeholders in this endeavour.
In his address, Election Commissioner Mr. Sunil Arora mentioned that while Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the principal and universal legal instrument that lays the foundation of universal adult suffrage, the 2006 UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities specifically recognized the rights of PwDs. These international treaties and our Constitution lay down the broad inclusive policy framework for ECI. He cited the inspiring cases of Mr. Stephen Hawking, the famous author and physicist as well as Dr. Alim Chandani from the US for their pioneering work related to the inclusion of PwDs in the society at large.
Addressing the gathering, Election Commissioner Mr. Ashok Lavasa mentioned that elections provide unique opportunity to enhance participation and mould public perceptions about the potential of PwDs, include their voice as equal citizens and set the stage for their social and economic integration. He quoted the famous words of Mr. Stephen Hawking “We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities”. He further stated that impressive campaigns through attractive communication strategies for connecting with the PwD voters have been developed and adopted by many countries. This conference would result in a robust interaction and sharing of experiences from the participants which would result in useful learning from each other.
Welcoming the delegates, Mr. Umesh Sinha, Senior Deputy Election Commissioner highlighted the significance of the National Voters’ Day celebrated every year on 25th January. He stated that the Conference is part of ECI’s initiative to make elections and electoral processes accessible to all. ‘Accessible Elections’ has been selected as central theme of this year’s ‘National Voter’s Day’ celebration. The theme, that seamlessly integrates into the underlying philosophy of universal adult suffrage and the concept of ‘No voter to be left behind.’ In his presentation titled ‘Crossing the Barriers: Making Elections Friendly and Accessible for PwDs in India’, he briefed the delegates on the major barriers and challenges faced by the PwDs and the initiatives taken by the ECI in ensuring their inclusion in the electoral process.
There were three sessions during the Conference where senior delegates from EMBs and International Organisations participated. International delegates included Heads / Senior officials of several EMBs. Head of IFES and International IDEA gave their presentations and shared their experiences, best practices and initiatives aimed at electoral engagement, enrolment and active participation in ballot exercise by PwDs in various countries.