Sunita Dahiya sits in her small notary office in Rai, Haryana, signing documents and talking to the locals of the area. In terms of elections, she is well aware of the current political climate; she knows the member of parliament from her area, reads the papers every day, and looks at each candidate before making an informed, democratic decision. Her hope is that an honest and caring government comes to power, and was happy with the BJP’s policies and governance over the last five years.
Just down the road from her, in Bundelkhand village, Sarita, a cleaner at a local university, has a different mindset when it comes to voting. ‘I don’t know what is in it for us’, she says dryly. ‘No matter which government is in power, the poor remain poor.’
Kanta, also support staff in a university from the same village, echoes that sentiment. ‘Whenever the politicians want votes, they come to us with their arms open. After they get elected, there is almost no difference.’ The class gap between Sunita and the women from Bundelkhand is clearly visible, and so too their difference in politics.
Disregard often leads to apathy, and the women of Bundelkhand’s disassociation from the political sphere has understandable roots. ‘Modi has done the most for our people. He’s the best choice we have,’ says Geeta, who was unaware the party to which the Prime Minister belonged. Family influence is also a factor for Geeta and the some of the others, who say that they vote for the party their family tells them is the best for their people.
In such a scenario, with admittedly little incentive and no concrete information which with to make a decision, the question of ‘why vote’ becomes increasingly interesting. The answer, however, is unanimous. ‘Why not?’ they all reply. While at first glance a seemingly passive response, these two words hold a lot of weight on elaboration. Kanta put it bluntly, ‘By not voting, we are still in the same situation. But when the promises of improvements in standard of living are coming in from all sides, we have to believe that at some point it will come true.’
The hope that Kanta and the women share, however, seems to be fading, as more people in her economic class get frustrated with the lack of support. Sarita, while sharing similar sentiments, questions her larger role. ‘Why do we vote? That is a good question. I think about this a fair amount. The people around me have no real need. The elections are not really for them.’ Despite this, she has voted every election, and will continue to do so.
The distance between the central government and villages like Bundelkhand does not seem to be bridging closer. The opposite in fact, with growing numbers in poverty. They are much more vested in local elections than their Members of Parliament, whose exact role they do not entirely know. And the further the distance, the less meaningful the votes become. On asking Geeta, a Modi supporter, the party symbol she presses when she votes, she replied, without hesitation, ‘Jhadoo’(Broom), the symbol of the Aam Admi Party, opposed to the BJP on several key issues.
For many of these women, the act of voting has become a means to an end, periodically pushing a button in the waning hope that at some point, they too can be heard.