From a creatively titled ‘womanifesto’ to a manifesto by manual scavengers, for the first time in electoral history, the poll scene in India today is also populated by voices that have hardly been heard otherwise.
Ever since the elections were announced, several civil society groups including manual scavengers, farmers, women and even children – who technically cannot vote – have come up with their own manifestos, hoping they will finally be heard.
Curiously, several such manifestos insist that things have gone from bad to worse in the last five years and seek redress. “It is a vibrant aspect of democracy” opines D. Raja, CPI’s national secretary. “It also informs us how people have been frustrated under the present dispensation”.
Muslim women activists from across ten states have also released their own manifesto ahead of the polls.
Manual scavengers demand alternate employment
The ten page manifesto of Safai Karamchari Andolan demands an unconditional national apology from the prime minister for the historical injustice meted out to people ‘with manual scavenging.’ Calling for declaring India as a country independent of manual scavenging, the manifesto demands liberation from manual scavenging, rehabilitation of manual scavengers with dignified with non-scavenging employment and livelihood options and insists on Safai Karamchari’s life to health, education and dignity.
“We had always sent out petitions before elections. I think that is how the 2013 Act came about” Deepthi Sukumar, National core member of Safai Karamchari Andolan, says explaining the idea behind bringing out a separate manifesto. She points out that almost every party manifesto has a line about manual scavengers but deems it ‘tokenist.’ “The issue is visible now than before so they cannot afford to leave it out, but they do not give enough space. Our idea is to insist on that space”. The SKA has sent the manifesto to all national parties and regional parties across the country. “We do not expect any response, but now they cannot tell us that they don’t know.”
Manifesto for women’s empowerment
Put out by Centre for Social Research (CSR), womanifesto is not particularly new to Indian poll scene. It has an 11 point plan including in sectors like Health, education, equality in legislation etc. But as pointed out by Feminisminindia.com, the womanifesto falls short when it comes to LGBTQIA+ rights and its failure to make political parties accountable over issues like woman’s entry into Sabharimala.
In Tamil Nadu, the two page manifesto of Prajnya initiatives and Pen Thozhilaalargal Sangam which they say is an ‘open letter to all candidates’ contesting the elections expresses its concern over deteriorating situation for women in the wake of rising Hindu fundamentalism and erosion of livelihoods and seeks steps to ensure gender equality, commitment to end impunity and rape culture, awareness on sexual harassment of women at workplace act.
“The manifesto was put together with the help of organizations working for women,” says Sujata Mody, a trade union activist working with Pen Thozhilaalargal Sangam. “The main issues before working women are lack of jobs, low wages, dangerous and degrading work. It’s time, women were treated equally, society learnt to value their contribution to the family, to the economy. It’s imperative that there is genuine representation of women in political space, and we find women do not even get respect. Very few women have been nominated by major political parties. We need more women in public office” she says.
Farmers in Tamil Nadu put forth their demands
In their manifesto, a 34-page booklet in Tamil, the farmers of Tamil Nadu have put forth various demands including disallowing private members in crop insurance schemes, waiver of farmer loans and implementation of the report by National commission on farmers headed by professor M.S. Swaminathan. “We have had other demands pertaining to the interests of State too,” says P.R. Pandiyan convener of the coordination committee.
“The farmers across the country face severe threats since Modi became the Prime Minister. Farmers from Tamil Nadu have been repeatedly humiliated by the Central government” he says. Pandiyan says the farmers in Salem and other districts where against giving their lands for the Salem-Chennai green corridor project but the lands were earmarked for acquisition without their consent. “We have also demanded that any acquisition of land should only be done with the permission of the farmers. It is outrageously unfair to take the lands away from them by merely issuing the government order.”
More recently, the Madras high court has quashed the land acquisition process for the Chennai-Salem green corridor project.
Manifesto for climate change and protection of Adivasi livelihoods
The people’s manifesto put together by National Water Association and Movement to save Tamil Nadu water resources critically examines how major political parties have not taken cognisance of issues like climate change and has urged the voters to factor in such aspects before casting their vote. Releasing the manifesto in Chennai, activist Rajinder Singh popularly known as Water Man of India took a dig at the BJP’s promise on interlinking rivers and said it ‘was criminal to do so and will end up dangerous to the environment.’
The manifesto by Adivasis, forest workers and fisherfolk, and people of the hills is both ‘a mark of our aspirations as also a document of our demands from India’s political parties and institutions.’ Explaining how the original inhabitants of this country have been systematically pushed off our ancestral lands and forcibly confined to small, remote and increasingly vulnerable corners of the country, the manifesto has put forth various demands including setting up Autonomous Councils for self-governance in all Adivasi, forest dwellers, fisherfolk and hill people majority areas and implement the Forest Rights Act 2006 in a manner that the community and its individuals both have control over the management of its natural resources.
Children might not have right to vote, yet they have their own set of demands
An organization called Save the Children has come up with a 19-page manifesto which puts forth certain general demands for children and specific demands for children of certain states. The manifesto insists on right to education, health and nutrition for children besides demanding that they be allowed to participate in decision making process.
Raja says CPI was approached by several civil society groups with manifestos and the party will sympathetically approach all demands raised by them. “We have been approached by transgender groups and trade unions too to incorporate their demands in our manifesto, besides all the other groups. There was also a suggestion in a manifesto by a youth organisation to introduce Bhagat Singh Employment Guarantee Act along the lines of NREGA to address the urban unemployment problem” he says.
Pointing out to the spontaneous protests that broke out among various sections of society in the last five years, Raja opines the manifestos are an expression of their aspirations that they would like the see the new dispensation address. “The Modi government rode on rhetoric and ended up identifying itself with the corporate. There was an attack on constitutional rights of the public and the government also failed to address the livelihood issues with the sensitivity that it required. No government can afford to look over the issues of ordinary people” he says.