A lot of our visually-impaired friends have complained of being betrayed by their companions while voting. But still we have no options other than to trust someone. We are helpless.
-- Chandra Bhattarai, Garamani, Jhapa
JHAPA, June 6: Voting is regarded as a secret process however in case of visually-impaired in Nepal, it has been hardly so. With the second round of local elections just around the corner, many such voters in Jhapa are worried about the violation of their privacy.
Despite having the right to vote, such people are not sure if their votes were cast to the candidate of their choice. Though they are allowed to take a companion with them while voting, some feel that they might have been betrayed by the companions. They doubt that their much trusted friends may take advantage of their blindness and vote for candidates of their preference instead of the voter.
Visually-impaired voters have expressed the desire to cast their votes on their own. They have demanded for disable-friendly voting centers and process. But they themselves are doubtful whether their demands will be ever fulfilled.
Prem Karki of Jhapa Rural Municipality-1 wanted to cast vote for Rastriya Prajatantra party (RPP) during the Constituent Assembly elections of 2013. Karki, who is blind by birth, was exercising his voting right for the first time. According to him, he was very much impressed by the agenda of RPP. He had requested one of his relative to accompany him to assist him in casting vote. He instructed his relative to vote for the party of his choice. After voting, he returned home glad and happy.
After few months, Karki heard something that horrified him. The relative whom he had entrusted and requested to caste his vote to RPP, had never done so. “He was talking with his friends at his home and I was just passing by when I heard him saying that he gave my vote to the CPN-ML, instead of the RPP. I was heartbroken,” Karki lamented.
The local election which is going to be held after a hiatus of 19 years will be a new experience for Prem. But this time he is very conscious about protecting his voting right.
He is trying to choose a trustworthy person who will not betray him. “I have not yet decided, but it would be better if I could vote on my own,” he said.
Chandra Bhattarai, a teacher at the Durga Secondary School, Garamani of Jhapa is also worried with the same problem. Bhattrai, who is also the leader of Blind Association, said “A lot of our visually-impaired friends have complained of being betrayed by their companions while voting but still we have no options other than to trust someone. We are helpless,” he said.
He said that it would not be wise to avoid voting just because of the fear of privacy violation. “There is no proof of whom our companions vote for and that is why it has become a problem for us,” he added.
Many voters with visual impairments have urged the election commission to protect their voting rights and privacy by setting disable-friendly voting stations in all constituencies.
“We have urged for disabled-friendly polling stations. But considering the fact that officials are still busy counting votes even after weeks of first phase of elections, you can't expect them to install electronic voting devices or machines,” Bhattarai wondered.
As per the 2012 census, 1.94 percent of the nation's total population constitutes of visually-impaired people. There are more than two lakhs such voters across country. In Jhapa alone, there are more than two thousand of these voters. “Visually-impaired voters of developed countries don't share our concerns as they caste their votes on their own through electronic devices,” said Dronacharya Niraula, chairperson of the Blind Association Nepal, Jhapa chapter.
Not only the Election Commission, visually-impaired and other disabled voters have also expressed their disappointments with political parties for not addressing their concerns.
They have accused political parties of disrespecting them. As per the details of Women Development Office, Jhapa, there are around 15,300 people with disability in the district.
Along with polling booths, visually-impaired have also demanded for separate voting papers that a friendly to blind people. “After such a long time, we have received an opportunity to elect the candidates of our choice and we don't want to miss it,” said Niraula “but we are not sure if we will be able to vote the candidate of our choice,” he added.