Millennial Mix: Chasing my Voter ID
A wild goose chase to get my voter ID before the elections has me feeling frustrated and tired of the rigmarole.
When I was growing up in the late nineties, in an old neighbourhood in North Kolkata, voting day always felt like a holiday. At the age of 6, all I understood was that it was a day when most of the adults in the house took turns to go away for a couple of hours, only to emerge at lunchtime when we would all sit down for a large meal. This meant that I could spend all morning watching reruns of The Powerpuff Girls, with no one around to scold me or ask me to turn the volume down. Far from having any inkling of electoral politics, all I heard were murmurs (read: very loud conversations) in my Bengali household about whether anyone would vote for someone called ‘Mamata’.
Nearly 14 years later, the general elections are looming and I finally have the vote since I’m now over 18. There is a booth that has been set up at my college in Delhi with a sign that claims to help us register for voter IDs. I walk up to the smiling lady and tell her that I need to register for a voter ID. She asks me if I have a permanent address in Delhi. When I say no, she says that I can only get a voter ID here if I have a permanent address. I give up and walk away. I spend election day in bed since there are no classes.
Two years later. I am pursuing a postgraduate degree in London. I hear that the vote for Brexit is about to take place. I am told that I can cast a vote since I am a citizen of a Commonwealth country. No one seems to know the implications of this vote. I am due to return to India at the end of my rather expensive course since Indian students are no longer granted work visas once they finish with university. I wonder if Brexit might somehow mean that Indian students will get work visas to stay on. No one knows if these two things are related. My friends from Europe are worried about their prospects in London if the vote goes through. They talk about whether their degrees will even be worth it if they can’t stay back in London. I think about how that was indeed the deal that I had accepted – to leave once I’m done. I visit a super-white neighbourhood for a ‘home-stay’ organised by international student services. I leave in under a day because I am genuinely scared by my host’s xenophobic (not to mention sexist) remarks on Brexit (and much more, actually). A few weeks later, my friends and I watch the news in the common room as the votes are counted. The people have voted to leave. We are in shock.
Three years later, I am back in India, working in NCR. I live in Gurgaon so I can be close to my office, although I have had to move homes three times since I got here 2 years ago. The rigmarole of having to change my temporary address with my local bank, phone company and employer is beginning to get to me. I am glad that I can still use my home address in Kolkata as my permanent address on my passport, voter ID, and more. Unfortunately, my parents decide to move to a new house in a completely different part of town. Passports must be updated, as must voter IDs, Aadhar cards, and so on. With the general elections coming up, we take the voter ID to task first.
I am in NCR for the most part of the year for work. So I ask my parents to take my card with them when they go to change their addresses. My father goes to the election commission office in the area, only to be told that that is not the right office. We scramble for information. Our local electrician tells us that one must go to a local school to submit the necessary forms, where the voter registrations are taking place. My father needs my signature on the forms. He waits for a couple of days as I am due to come home for Pujo. I sign the documents and come back to NCR. A few days later, he tells me that he has been to the centre, and that we should have our cards in about two weeks. He mentions that since he would be travelling for work soon, the electrician would show my mother the office, and then she would be able to collect it from there. Two weeks later, we call the electrician to help guide us to the centre. He tells my mother that he would go check for our cards since he lives close by. He reports that they haven’t come in yet.
I watch a Buzzfeed video on how easy it can be to change your address on your voter ID. I wait to find the time to go home since I somehow can’t get myself to believe that the voter IDs haven’t come in yet. The internet has told me otherwise.
I come home a couple of months later and find my way to the centre. It is located in a local madrasa, with no signs to show that it has anything to do with voter IDs. The office clerk has no idea that the place was ever used for creating voter IDs at all. I wait around for a bit and finally find someone who was part of the last drive for voter IDs at that centre. He tells me that while they did process the information there, one must go to another local school to finally get one’s voter ID. Next, I find myself hurtling through the bylanes of semi-rural Bengal, searching for this school. When I finally find it, I am told that the lady in charge of the voter IDs is on leave and that I must call her later. I take the number and give her a call the following day. She tells me that she only has the voter IDs of those who have applied for brand new ones and that I must go to another office to collect my revised card. At this point, I’m pretty tired of this wild goose chase. But my mom decides to finally go to this office. There, she is told that they are no longer distributing the IDs till July. A fat load of good that would do for me in the upcoming elections, I think.
Luckily, I find myself talking to a lot of people about how frustrating this process is for me, till I meet someone who tells me that one can check the status of their voter IDs online. I hurriedly make my way onto the internet, and lo and behold, my name is indeed on the right voter list! So, the form did come through and I am told that I can indeed vote from my constituency back home now. But where indeed is my voter ID? Will I ever get it? Or must I pursue another wild chase in July?