A democracy’s most basic claim is that it allows everyone to participate in the political sphere and vote for the leadership of the country. Democracies across the world were formed in order to give the people, all people, a voice in government issues. Exclusion of any group or minority is considered an assault on democracy’s fundamental premises. However, sometimes this exclusion may not be as explicit as a law on paper; this type of oppression is the hardest to combat because not only is it difficult to recognize its presence but also to find solutions for it. The oppression becomes invisible and requires a conscious effort to resist. Thus, when it finally becomes noticed, it is essential that the problem is dealt with quickly and effectively.
The spread of democracy has become one of the most promising advances of the last century. Authoritarian governments are on the decline, and people are being granted more and more rights, including the right to vote. Unfortunately, these new democracies are not always perfect. India was supposed to be a model democracy and a sign of promise as the world’s most populous democratic country. Despite this title, it still has a host of problems related to its voting process.
One glaring issue is the lack of accessibility for disabled people in India. Problems include a “[l]ack of wheelchair ramps, steep and uneven ramps, tables inside polling booths that were too high, and transport.” These issues make it extremely difficult, sometimes impossible, for disabled people to cast their votes in elections. That means this marginalized group, which is already excluded from many other opportunities in India, is not getting their voice heard. Does the phrase “getting one’s voice heard” sound familiar? It should because that is exactly why democracy was created: the 13 American colonies wanted to have representation in government. So, the situation in India needed a similar revolutionary measure in order to fix the problem.
In July, the Election Commission of India gathered in order to form a concrete solution to this problem. The results were promising and attempted to “ensure that persons with locomotor disabilities get added to the electoral rolls and even arranged pick up and drop [off] facilities.” Although these reforms were supposed to be implemented on World Disability Day, or December 3rd, the state has been slow, and in some cases failed, to act on these recommendations. Bureaucratic gridlock has plagued the attempt at reform and has delayed any progress. An anonymous activist explains, “The state officials claimed that they were awaiting directions from the ECI. The ECI officials said the state had been given directions. Who will implement them?” This means that disabled people are going to have to wait even longer for their promised voting rights. While this problem may seem minor due it only affecting a relatively small portion of the population, this very idea suggests a deeper problem that has pervaded our view of the world.
With separate classrooms for “special needs” kids, the common use of ableist words like “moron” and “retarded,” and patronization, our society has normalized the exclusion of people with disabilities. Even when we see people with disabilities in our everyday lives, we have a cognitive bias that classifies them as different. Disabled people are often stared at as they “quickly become sources of fear and fascination for able-bodied people.” Ableism has infected all corners of our society; in order to fight it, we must recognize instances of it like voting accessibility in India and devise solutions that aim to include people with disabilities. For their integrity as a democracy, India must make a tangible effort to overcome internal gridlock and quickly provide the rights that its disabled citizens deserve.