Before every election, all the four hundred families residing in the Shastrinagar slum await the visit of the various political parties representatives of their area. Like other families living in other slums in India. To please the slum-dwellers, politicians offer them money and one meal. ” We are the cause for their victory : that is why politicians give us so much attention during elections” says a resident. His tone of self-importance shifts to one of helplessness when we ask about the moral responsibility in casting that crucial vote he is talking about. “We know it is not right…We do not worry whether the party once elected will give us the facilities we need.”
For many years now, the slum-dwellers have been offered money for campaigning for a political party and consequently to cast their votes for the same party. While few years ago, they were paid Rs 10 ( 0,1 euro, US$ 0,1) along with lunch to campaign for a day, now they are paid Rs 30. “Although we are given more money per vote (Rs 100), I am sure the area leader, the one who collect the money from the local politician to distribute it among us, pockets some amount” says another resident. “Our rich country has been made poor by politicians who want to swindle crores ( 1 crore = 10.000.000) of rupees to make their wives and children rich in turn…The poor, knowingly or unknowingly, sell their fate to people who may hold the country to a ransom”.
The few weeks before elections are a dangerous time for slum-dwellers as they are made pawns in the political rivalry of the area. “Recently, a political leader asked me to write a petition to the police commissioner alleging something about another leader of the area” says the leader of the main association of the slum. And it is this battle that scares the residents, for fear of losing their lives if they don’t comply. The Shastrinagar slum-dwellers are unanimous in declaring their awareness of corruption. “We also know that these politicians will not come back to our area after elections. So, we take the money from all of them and later vote for only one” says a resident who has been voting for the same party for more than 30 years. “Even though the number of slums have gone up during this period and the conditions have worsened, politicians still have the cheek to approach us with new promises.”
Residents of this slum that lack drinking water and drainage facilities have voting power both at Shastrinagar and in their native places ( Indeed, many people living in slums are migrants.). “We get paid at both places, but the money is just enough for our weekly expenditure”, says a mason who stays away from work during the election week ( Because campaigning is more lucrative than working as a day labourer).
Zarina is troubled at the thought of being forced out of her house on the day of elections if she refuses to vote. ” If we don’t go to vote, we are threatened that our names will be taken away from the ration cards.” ( Ration cards are issued by the Indian government to allow the poor to obtain food)