Voting is as much a responsibility as a right – and some centenarians in Karnataka are the embodiment of this responsibility. No matter how many times they’ve voted, no matter how many governments they’ve seen, they try their best to never miss a poll.
On Saturday, the oldest person to vote in state is believed to be 111-year-old Sri Shivakumara Swami of the famous Siddaganga mutt at Tumakuru. The seer, born in 1907, says he has not missed voting in any election till date. And at 7 am, as soon as the polling booth opened, he was out to vote on May 12.
Siddaganga mutt seer Shivakumar Swami
TNM caught up with five other such individuals in Karnataka – inspiring the younger generation as they exercised their right to vote.
103-year-old Michael Dsouza says he cannot recall a single time that he did not go out to vote. The centenarian has been an active voter since the first ever Assembly election in the state. “The only difference is that, earlier, there was a big box in which we had to drop the ballot slip and now we just have to press a button,” Michael says.
“Regardless of the method, I make it a point to vote every time, but I never tell anyone whom I vote for,” he says.
Michael walks past security personnel at the Lady Hill polling booth in Mangaluru with confidence and greets the poll official. "Everyone knows me, I have come here many times,” he states with a smile. As other voters wait for their turn, Michael finishes casting his vote in a matter of minutes and heads to the exit.
Hours away, in the district of Chamarajanagar, 102-year-old Basamanni shows up to a polling booth at Umttur village. The veteran voter can barely stand up straight and walk, but that does not deter her from doing her duty as a citizen. “We need to have a good leader, that is how the country will progress,” she says.
Ivy Mathias is a 102-year-old from South Mangaluru. She is one of the first voters to reach her local polling booth on Saturday morning to cast her vote. And we reach her residence, we are admonished by her relatives for “being late.”
“You are late, she has already cast her vote,” a relative of Ivy’s says. Ivy however does not mind a picture being taken, of her showing off the indelible ink on the ballot finger.
Nympha Sadan Senior Citizens’ Home in Pandeshwar, Mangaluru is the residence of Gladys D’Souza who turned 100 years old this year. Gladys moved to Mangaluru in 2008, before which she had lived in Kolkata and Mumbai.
“Last election, she did not have the voter ID card and was unable to participate. This year we were able to get the paperwork processed in time and she was given the voter ID card. She was quite happy about being able to vote,” says Sister Cynthia, a caretaker at the home.
In Hosur, 105-year-old Boramma is assisted by her grandson to reach the polling booth. He lifts up the elderly woman in his arms as she leaves the polling booth, and the two pose for a photo.
While it is definitely commendable that these senior citizens are setting an example for democracy, there is still much improvement needed. According to the 2011 census, there are an estimated 53.84 lakh senior citizens eligible to vote. However, in the days leading up to the 2018 polls, only 3.5 lakh senior citizens (including those with physical disabilities) had approached the Election Commission asking for special assistance to made available for them at the polling booths.
Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)