The term ‘Democracy’ refers to a system of governance by the whole population. The rising awareness among people regarding the concept has caused sleepless nights for authorities around the world. From the streets of Hong Kong to the fields of the Netherlands, citizens are rapidly awakening to their constitutional rights. Our country hasn’t been left too far behind. It has been on the boil of late due to the introduction of a particular “Act” by the government. And given the current scenario prevailing the country, I sought it fit to fulfill my duty as a responsible netizen (social media is the platform where most of our protests are limited to) by writing about my experience as a polling officer, trying desperately to protect the “democratic” rights of the citizens of this country.
I joined service with a certain kind of zeal sometime in 2014, hoping to make a difference to the society. I also thought it to be my solemn duty to be a part of the election machinery. I got assigned to my first job as a polling officer after just one year. I made several efforts to revive the zeal within myself, but my colleagues kept telling me horror stories that hardly did anything to awaken that zeal. And so when I received the letter of appointment from my Head Master, it brought my heart into my mouth. Yet there was no way of denying it. And thus, a few days later, I found myself in the same boat as thousands of the unlucky souls did, traversing a long distance to attend a preliminary training. I had been assigned the worst possible role in the team of four. I was meant to lead a team as a Presiding Officer. Not only would I be responsible for the three people integral to the polling process, but I would also be in charge of the police personnel and the CRPF jawans that were to ensure our safety. It was as if I was the “Ek din ka sultan” without the scepter to rule my small kingdom.
And so life began for me as a responsible government employee, trying to ensure that I, a person who is scared of even visiting the bank alone, prepared myself to play a part in keeping the democracy working. The central office from where election materials are distributed and polling teams are assigned to respective booths are called the Distribution Centre (DC). The same office becomes the Receiving Centre (RC) when the polling parties return after the successful conduction of polling duties. It is simultaneously a place where the tension grows and where a person is put under stress and then is released from his stress when he is released from his duties. Any polling officer entering the DC is familiar with the feeling of entering the coliseum to fight a hungry lion with his or her feast.
My worst nightmare came to life as I was assigned what people call a “sensitive” booth with as many as three vehicles lining up to escort the team to the booth, almost 20 km away from the DC. It was like the journey that the Pandavas had to undertake on their way to heaven. The only exception: there was no heaven waiting for us at our polling station. The excessive workload, though, couldn’t prevent my ever-fleeting mind from enjoying the scenic beauty of the place, miles away from the humdrum of the city. It was a high school with state of the art facilities, and with the CRPF jawans already making the place for their base camp, there was no shortage of water or food. These dressed-up men were like angels for us, the half-dead souls, assuring us about our safety and telling us that they would risk their lives for our safety and the safety of the polling materials, something that made me even more scared. I kept thinking of the worst-case scenarios and the prospect of us being caught on the crossfire. I also was wise enough to envision a public lynching for my crew and me.
To the massive relief of my fellow employees, I refrained from sharing my feelings with them. I had a huge chunk of work to do the previous day – signing all the important sheets, putting the required documents inside their respective envelopes, putting the seal on the documents, and also to prepare the polling station. It was a bit too much for a first-timer. But with the help of some learned gentlemen, I managed. I was unable to prevent myself from enjoying the beauty of place in-between, though. Risking safety, I went out to walk beside the pond, clicked the ducks, which were swimming happily inside it. I also enjoyed a shower beside the lake. This enjoyment came at an expense as I had to work late into the late to get my paper works right.
We had no bed to sleep on. So we assembled a few benches, spread blankets on it, and enjoyed brief rest. It was as if I was playing the lead role in a poorly directed soap opera.
We woke up at the wee hours of the morning – two hours of sleep that was all that we had managed in-between. And so the colossal game began. The booth was adorned; the polling agents were invited in with folded arms to give their nod to the polling process. They obliged us by quickly, thus relieving at least some bit of pressure on the poor souls. My first polling officer, a gentleman working at a municipality, braced himself up to act as the verifier of the voter register. The second polling officer, a primary school teacher, sat with the second list, assigning the voter slip to the voters and the third polling, a man of over 50 working at the Income Tax department, put indelible ink on the left index finger of the voter. The entire room looked like painting picked straight out of some history book, where the king sits with his ministers and tries to preach. I hardly had the looks of a preacher or a king in this case.
To my sheer relief, it continued peacefully with the kind assistance of the polling agents. Here I need to mention the fact that the success of any polling party begins with the cooperation of the polling agents employed there. I was lucky enough to draw a positive response from the agents used at my polling station.
It was a painstaking process, given the immense heat of mid-May. But we plodded through somehow. Food was scarce; it mostly is at polling stations. The observers did their best to ensure a free and fair poll, time dragged on, and the queues outside began to increase. The pressure was high during the lunch hours, and so I had to take turns to perform the roles of my polling party members in turn. Towards the end, I felt something churning inside my stomach. I somehow lost patience every bit of patience regarding that whole elongated process. There was no scope of showing it though, as the polling still had to be concluded, the machines sealed and delivered to the Receiving Centre. The hungry faces of the officials kept coming back to haunt me. The process of sealing concluded at around 6.30, almost and one-and-half hours after the conclusion of the actual polling process.
The final deliverance
We reached the Receiving Centre at around 8.30 pm. There was a massive queue at the stipulated counter. I patiently waited for my turn as other presiding officers jostled among themselves to get the job done. It was a challenge to get the thing done. I was faced with multiple rejections. I was finally was done with it at around 1.30 am. There was no chance of finding my way back home at the dead of night. So we decided to stay put at the center. It was a starry night. We used the cardboard that had been used to make the voting compartment to prepare a bed under the sky and take a nap. I was woken up by a phone call from my colleagues at around 2.30 am. It was a experience to find our way to the station, board the 3.15 am train, and crawl towards home.
Featured Image Credits: Flickr