93-year-old to vote for first time in his life in India

Sher Singh Hedko, a 93-year-old from central Chhattisgarh state gets enrolled as a first-time voter (Screengrab/The Tribune/YouTube)
Sher Singh Hedko, a 93-year-old from central Chhattisgarh state gets enrolled as a first-time voter (Screengrab/The Tribune/YouTube)

A 93-year-old man in India will vote for the first time in his lifetime.

Sher Singh Hedko, a nonagenarian resident of central Chhattisgarh state’s Kanker district, will exercise his voting right for the first time in his life during assembly elections scheduled this year for the state.

Local media said a lack of documents could be one potential reason for him not having voted even once throughout his lifetime.

Reports said his name was added to the voters’ list during a door-to-door campaign launched in the district by a government official.

Several reports said his name was included due to efforts by district collector Priyanka Shukla, who initiated the campaign in the area where Mr Hedko resides.

“This is a remarkable achievement of our BLOs [Booth Level Officers] that they approached those who were left out in the voters’ list for certain reasons, by visiting people at their doorsteps and ensuring the adding of their names,” Ms Shukla was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

“By acting proactively, the BLOs added names of people by helping them arrange required documents and during this exercise, the name of Sher Singh Hedko was also added, she said.

It is pretty standard before elections in India to have reports of elderly citizens exercising their voting rights – it acts as a potential motivator for others.

In this case, however, Mr Hedko allegedly didn’t have documents and couldn’t register to vote. In India, thousands, especially those who are poor and are from economically marginalised groups, struggle with documentation.

According to a 2020 report in the Mint newspaper, official data from India indicates that, at the national level, individuals who are economically disadvantaged and belong to marginalised communities tend to face additional marginalisation when confronted with bureaucratic processes requiring legacy data, such as proof of ancestry, or documentation.

A prominent illustration of this disparity can be observed in the possession of birth certificates, where data from the National Family Health Survey conducted in 2015-16 revealed that the wealthiest and most privileged social strata are more likely to have such documents, the report says.

This survey gathered responses from over half a million participants and covered various aspects related to health and demographic information.

Due to the lack of a proper ID system, India in 2009 introduced the Aadhaar, a digital identity system.

Several reports, however, point out that various difficulties, inconveniences and exclusions in Aadhar-related schemes disproportionately affect India’s most marginalised populations.

There are several reports of elderly citizens, said to be above the age of 100, going to exercise their franchise.

Such elderly citizens are usually portrayed as beacons of democracy right before elections are due.

In 2019, 102-year-old Shyam Saran Negi became one of the oldest Indian voters, making him the centre of attention of the country’s media.

In 2020, in a by-poll in northern Uttar Pradesh state, 115-year-old Jamuni Devi was celebrated for her will to go to a voting centre despite old age.