Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Display of empowerment

CHEDEMA (AP) – The line was orderly at Government Middle School as people waited patiently to vote, even after one of the voting machines malfunctioned.

The officers working at the polling station in Chedema village in India’s tiny mountain state of Nagaland on Friday had arrived the day before, all of them women on electoral duty for the first time.

The four women surveyed the polling station, secured the perimeter and started on the tedious paperwork involved with India’s multiphase national election.

They stopped only for an early dinner, paying heed to the voice of Eholi Jimo, 35, who cooked their meal over an open fire. “Please eat while the food is still hot,” she urged.

The Northern Angami constituency is Nagaland’s first to be solely managed by women polling officers. It was the idea of Kumar Ramnikant, the administrative head of Kohima district, in hopes of breaking job stereotypes.

“If our country needs proper develop then there should be equal contribution from both halves,” Ramnikant said. “Empowerment should not only be at the top level, it should be at the bottom level also. It should be at all layers for real empowerment.”

“Women are more systematic. They take every sentence seriously whereas men have an easy attitude,” said Zhoto Khamo, an officer who has supervised many elections.

India’s elections that started on Friday will finish June 1, with the counting starting on June 4. Each phase is held a single day with several constituencies across multiple states voting that day.

The staggered polling allows the government to deploy tens of thousands of troops to prevent violence and transport election officials and voting machines.

Security issues were not a concern at the Chedema polling station as the constituency has not recorded election-related violence in the recent past.

The Election Commission of India must ensure a voting booth is available within two kilometres of every voter. Some 15 million election officials and security staff will traverse the country’s deserts and mountains – sometimes by boat, foot and even on horseback – to try to reach every voter.

“I just hope it will go smoothly and things happen on time,” said Neichütuonuo Yhome, 27, the presiding officer of the Chedema polling station’s team.

After they collected the electronic-voting machines and other election-related material, Yhome led her team to their station.

Their duty resumed at sunrise on Friday.

The night before, they had spread their sleeping bags on the cold concrete floor of a classroom. A village leader was quick to arrange rugs for the night, saying: “They are guests of the village.”

ABOVE & BELOW: Voters stand in line at the Government Middle School in Chedema, India; and an elderly Angami Naga woman displays the indelible ink mark on her finger after casting her vote. PHOTO: AP
A polling officer applies indelible ink on the finger of a voter. PHOTO: AP
ABOVE & BELOW: Angami Nagas laughs as an elderly man reacts to the camera at a polling station; and Zhoto Khamo oversees paperwork prepared by polling officer Neke W Konyak. PHOTO: AP