28 August 2008

Chameli's first day out and How to get a voter ID card

My bum aches. A testament to how much I traveled on Chameli yesterday. We went on a mission: to find the relevant ERO (Electoral registration office) office. This post is part my adventure and part a public information topic, getting yourself registered to vote in India. As an aspiring social citizen I decided that my first act in official circles should be to exercise my right to vote and participate in the world's largest democracy. I hope this information will also be useful to all those of you contemplating this act and feeling overwhelmed by the paperwork. For those of you who want to skip the Ramayan I have written below and get a how-to-register-for-voting guide, please scroll to bottom of post.
I'm from the generation where wikipedia and google hold most answers so having established my objective viz., to get a voter registration card, I googled and went to the relevant websites. For Bangalore (Urban) citizens this happens to be the BBMP website. They have outsourced their online voting information to another service, www.banagalorevoterid.org. Under the contact guide, I found which constituency I fell under. This is based on where you live. There was an address and number listed against the area I come under.
Now this is where the fancy Indian bureaucracy ended and the fabled red tape began. I assumed that for each area, the address listed corresponded to an office in that area. Wrong. After peddling around my neighbourhood in vain looking for a N.R. Square I found out that the address corresponded to the head office. India together has complied a nice FAQ which outlines the process of getting a voter registration card and forms you need so I had some template to the process. There's a form 6 that needs to be filled out accompanied by proof of age and proof of address. So I gathered the required photocopies (in my case, the passport for both. Other acceptable proofs are listed in the FAQ) and headed to N.R. Square. After being shuttled from one office to the next by various clerks, chowkidars and the general population that hangs out in these joints we found the office. I got Form 6, available only in the Kannada edition and was asked to submit the form only at my local ERO ! I got an address and took my kannada form 6. Now, I have to point out that I was unable to locate the address of my local ERO on the Govt. website.
My ERO office address just had the name of a colony; no cross street, no main road number and certainly no house number. Surprise, surprise! After making a few enquiries I was asked to go to the Domlur
Bus Stand where mysteriously this office would be located. Chameli and I took the back roads and after asking various tea shop owners I reached the bus stand only to find a Govt. office, which turned out to be for water and sewage, not what I wanted. What followed was, more dangerous road crossings and a few encounters with Road Romeos (RR) who thought nothing of screaming indecipherable words from zooming cars because I was probably the rare nicely dressed woman riding a bicycle in a helmet. The finger, an appropriate gesture of annoyance in NYC was quite useless. I have to learn, either to be more tolerant or expand my cursing vocabulary. I landed next at the Govt. office that fixes street lights but did run into a citizen who pointed me to the ERO office with precise directions.
I got to bike over a flyover and that was a cool experience. I've probably used up all my karmic favours in this one cycle ride since I could have got run over at every 100ft but managed to avoid it anyway.
Once at the ERO office it was smooth sailing. I had been smart enough to fill out the Kannada form by going online and reading the form in English and, filling it out appropriately. I was told to come back after a month. So, now for some thumb twiddling.
We are at some strange confluence of technology and indian standard democracy; all the info was online but it was incomplete and I still had to make trips to offices to get the low down. Phone numbers yielded engaged tones or deaf ears. But, thanks to the info online I knew that I had the right paperwork and knew the general outline of how things should proceed. So, it was five steps forward and three steps backwards. But if you do the math it's two steps forward so as long it is positive I feel good!

How to get your name on the electoral roll
  1. Fill out Form 6. Warning: the local office might only have the forms in the local language so if you are primarily an English communicator on paper I strongly recommend downloading, printing and filling the form before you get to the office.
  2. Make copies of proof of age and proof of address. Acceptable proofs listed here.
  3. Find out which is your local ERO office based on your city/town and locality. This is the tricky part; for Bangalore we have a website that gives some information but is incomplete.
  4. Submit form in person, retain receipt.
  5. Cross fingers and wait!
  6. I will update this list as things happen with my form.

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