Saturday, June 22, 2024

In polls for existence, Muslims find their names missing from electoral rolls

Photo courtesy: @ECISVEEP

As Mumbai voted on 20 May, journalist Rana Ayyub spent her day visiting all the polling booths in her locality. But she wasn’t reporting on the mammoth elections. Rana wanted to vote. But her name was not on the voters’ list

Neither did seven other eligible members of her family. 

After hours of searching, the award-winning journalist found her mother’s name in a list. But the photo was of another woman and the person was attributed as “Shri” — indicating the person was a male.

Since the beginning of the seven-phase elections, many voters, the majority of them Muslims, have found their names deleted from the electoral roll. The removal of names has caused panic and anguish among Muslims who are concerned by the polarisation in the country.

“It is one of the rare privileges there is left in the country for Muslims,” Ayyub told Maktoob while expressing her frustration. She said they lived in the same address and her family members, including herself, voted in all elections in the past.

After Ayyub posted on social media about the experience, several people from across India shared similar incidents. Ayyub shared the messages from people with Maktoob.

In Gujarat, the names of 700 Muslim voters were deleted before this election after their homes were razed in the fishing harbours of Gandhvi and Navadra in Devbhumi Dwarka last year.

The vocal columnist said her name was not even on the Absentee, Shifted, Dead(ASD) voter list. While addressing her lapse in not checking the list before polls, Ayyub questions why she was not informed about her name being removed.

Abdul Raheem Ansari, a resident of Mumbai’s Govandi, said his and his wife’s names were deleted from the voters’ list.

“We voted last 4 Lok Sabha elections. I have asked the reason and even tried to add names before the deadline to add names to the voters’ list. An official said our name will be updated. But it’s not done. I wanted to vote.”

The ECI has deleted more than 1.66 crore names from the electoral roll in the annual revision carried out ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. While names of voters from other communities are also missing from the poll list, Muslims fear future consequences of the omission. Muslim groups have urged community members to vote, pointing to the anti-minority policies finding a place in India’s rules.

A serious concern

According to the Election Commission of India’s submission to the Supreme Court, “no deletion should be done without following due process of law…in all cases, a notice must be issued to the elector and must be duly served”.

But according to rule 18 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960, the electoral registration officer (ERO) can accept objections to any name in the electoral roll without inquiry if he’s “satisfied as to the validity of the claim or objection”.

“I felt like a nobody—persona non grata in my own country. God knows how many others are left out,” Ayyub said. 

“If I can get legal notices from the government on my address, and SMS about voting from ECI, how can they not inform us about this,” she added.

Speaking to Maktoob about the elections, senior journalist and author Saba Naqvi said that the deletion of Muslim voters from the electoral roll is not a new trend.

“I have in the past, since 2019 and in 2022, flagged the issue of deletion of Muslim names from electoral rolls. I have raised this with some of the opposition parties but I don’t find them very organised on this front,’ Naqvi said.

During the fourth phase of the election, held on 13 May, Old Hyderabad resident Syed Qudubuddin Masood found names of his family members were deleted, despite voting in the state assembly elections that happened four months ago.

Masood, an activist and co-founder of The Democracy Dialogue, wrote to the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) but no response has come even after a week. His name was also not on the ASD list. Masood also shared letters from others who found their names omitted from the electoral roll. 

According to a report, since January 2023, a total of 5.41 lakh names were removed from electoral rolls in Hyderabad out of which more than 1.67 lakh voters were deleted since the assembly elections in November last year.

Stating that there are no statistics to show Muslims are the primary victims of the deletion of electoral rolls, Masood admits many Muslims are now removed from it.

He observed that two things contribute to such arbitrary deletion. He said Election Commission officers delete names after pressure from political parties and candidates, who make allegations of voter fraud.

He also claims that with this crisis, the Union government can push for Aadhar linking with voter ID.

Madhavi Latha, BJP’s candidate for Hyderabad, had repeatedly accused of voter fraud in her constituency where the Muslim population is high. She was booked for inspecting women wearing veils inside the polling booth.

“There is a fear in the community. Many have kept the voter list to use it as proof during the NRC (National Register of Citizens) and NPR (National Population Register). Now that their names are not there, they have fear,” Masood told Maktoob.

“Election meaningless”

He said he was sad about not being able to vote and blamed the poll monitors for taking away his “right to vote” and “rights of people’s representation”.

Similar allegations of the deletion of Muslims in the locality of Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur surfaced the same day. 33-year-old Anik, who goes by the username Alok Verma on social media platform X, said over a hundred Muslim voters’ names were missing. 

“There are three small Muslim settlements in our village. I only know about one of them. Out of 250 voters, the names of a majority of them were deleted,”  Anik, who openly supports the Indian National Congress, told Maktoob.

Anik, who requested not to disclose his full name, said that Gram Pradhan, who allegedly belongs to the BJP,  was behind the deletion of Muslim voters. The social media post about Meera Nagar in Mahmudabad was reposted by Congress leaders, asking for a probe by the EC. But the commission gave no response.

Abdul Wahab, a voter from Meera Nagar said his name was missing whereas his wife could vote. The daily wage worker said he had not changed his address or got any notification over any dispute about his voter eligibility.

Mojibullah, who hails from Mirza Ghalib Street in Kolkata, said his name is missing from the electoral roll. Although he lives in Delhi and runs a paan shop, he always goes to Kolkata for elections.

He said he always ensured his name would be on the list. This time, though he tried, his name disappeared from the list. ‘This is all because of my identity,’ he believes.

Jaskirat Singh, North Zone Coordinator of National Election Watch, associated with several NGOs/CSOs/citizen-led organisations across India, said it is difficult to audit what is happening due to the non-availability of data.

But Singh said that because one party is very powerful, financially and in terms of cadres, they can control who’s name should remain and who will be deleted.

“What is an election? It is a meaningless thing if a section of people are not allowed to vote,” Naqvi added.

Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla, an award-winning journalist, is the Deputy Editor of Maktoob.
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