KATHMANDU, May 4: Bhoj Raj Pandey, Chairperson of Kathmandu Association of Blind (KAB) was extremely happy when the government announced the local level elections after a gap of 19 years. Pandey, blind by birth, cannot see but that does not mean he is unaware about the crises and problems facing the country.
Like many other youths, Pandey has no experience of casting his vote in a local election.
Pandey, who had voted in Constituent Assembly (CA) elections held in 2008 and 2013, laments that his privacy was violated while casting vote. Thapa reached the polling station accompanied by a friend but sadly he could not cast his vote for the candidate he wanted as his friend rather chose the one he favored. “I was horrified when he told me later about it but I could do nothing rather than feeling bad for my disability, “Pandey complained durigng an interview. He stressed that the government should make disabled-friendly electronic devices for the voters with blindness as even a single vote of a disabled person can make a difference.
Pandey, a local of Nawalparasi is desperately waiting to exercise his voting right and choose a qualified candidate committed to lead the overall development of his local unit. Besides that, he wants the new representative to ensure employment for all. “I hope no one will have to stay in streets begging for survival because of their disability,” said Pandey, adding, “Further, it would be better if I could cast my vote on my own.”
The worries of the disabled people do not end here. Bharat Bahadur Karki, 41, is a representative case. Karki has been moving around in a wheel chair since the of 22 years due to a spinal cord injury in an accident. In 1997's local elections he was physically fine and had voted on his own. This time, he is worried about how to cast his vote to his favorite candidate. “I want to vote to someone with a vision, who can resolve the problems of women, Dalit, disabled and others,” said Karki who hails from Kanchanpur.
According to him, many disabled people don't vote due to the difficulties and hardships faced during the voting process. “It is really challenging for people like us to reach the polling centers which are not easily accessible and casting vote is still not easy even after reaching there,” said Karki adding “Sometimes, we are harassed by the crowd, which discourages many of us.”
As per the data provided by National Federation of Disabled -Nepal (NFDN), altogether 1 86,457 people are categorized as people with physical disability in Nepal. The census of 2011, showed that the ratio of disabled in Nepal was 1.94% of the total population and 44% of them were females.
According to Tika Dahal, vice-chairperson of NFDN, it will be challenging for the physically disabled people to reach the polling stations as there will be no vehicular movement on the day of election. “We have been urging EC to make special provision of vehicles, guides and interpreters for the disabled during the polls,” said Dahal. Besides that, NFDN is also planning to mobilize its officers to various polling stations to find out whether they are disabled-friendly.
Asked whether the EC has made any special arrangement for the disabled people, Election Commissioner Narendra Dahal said the Commission prioritizes the differently-able people although adequate arrangements are not in place. “Physically challenged people won't have to line up in queues to cast their votes.” said Dahal. Disabled people, according to commissioners, are allowed to cast their votes without having to wait since 2013's Constituent Assembly elections.
“Basically, visually impaired and physically challenged people suffer the most. We have not been able to do much for them,” said the commissioner adding that the EC has instructed local returning officers to arrange vehicles for transporting disabled people on Election Day.