On 10th July 2020, civil rights groups Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), Lok Shakti Abhiyan, AIUFWP, Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, Nagrikta Forum, Assam, sent a memorandum to the Election Commission of India regarding the inclusion of migrant labourers, particularly circular migrant workers, as a special class of workers entitled to vote in the Lok Sabha and state legislative elections by way of postal ballot. A copy of memorandum was also sent to all state governments.
The letter was written on behalf of the migrant labours. It highlighted the unjust reality that simply by virtue of their work definition which is being away from home, a large section of population is excluded from their basic right.
The letter also talks about the circular migrants, who have not permanently relocated to the host cities and instead circulate between host and home cities. According to studies, these circular migrations, amount to 60-65 million migrants. If we were to include their family members, the number approaches to 100 million.
Majority of migrant labourers have their names in the voting list of their home cities but due to the economic constraints, they are not able to commute to their home states for parliamentary elections. “According to one survey, only 48% of those surveyed voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as compared to the national average of 59.7%. When only long-distance migration was considered, it was found that only 31% of those surveyed voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. These patterns have stayed consistent even for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where major sender states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had some of the lowest voter turnout rate at 57.33% and 59.21% respectively as compared to the 67.4% national average”, the letter states.
Noting the circular and seasonal nature of migration, the labourers are not able to transfer their constituency to the host state. Data suggests that only 10% of migrant labours surveyed, possessed voter ID’s in their host cities. “The result has been that a class of persons, who would immensely benefit from exercising the franchise are entirely excluded from the political calculus, their concerns are rarely represented and prioritized by candidates, and who as a class do not possess any bargaining power.”
Among the migrant workers, there’s a fear of being removed from voter lists, fear of not getting access to entitlements at home cities due to not voting. “In light of this connection and given their inability to transfer their constituencies to host cities, we believe that granting postal ballot rights in their home cities is the most effective solution to the issues of political exclusion faced by migrant laborers.”
“In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a total of more than 28 Lakhs votes were received via postal ballots.30 It is only incumbent to implement a similar system for migrant laborers.”
Emphasizing the powers of ECI to update electoral rolls, the letter states, “Since the endeavour of the ECI is to include all eligible voters in electoral rolls, the Commission may seek such registers from establishments that employ migrant workers so their names may be included in electoral rolls and they are able to fulfill their right to exercise their vote. Surely, the ECI would want nothing less than a completely inclusive election and since there is already a law in place which requires maintenance of record of this moving population of migrant labourers, the ECI stands to benefit from the same.”
“It is submitted that given the substantial number of migrant laborers that are excluded from exercising their franchise, the concern at hand is not just about the political exclusion of migrants but about democracy itself.”
“We believe that by giving migrant labourers the right to cast their vote through the postal ballot, the Election Commission of India would be taking a step towards a more inclusive democracy, ensuring that every segment of the adult and eligible Indian population gets to cast their vote and is not excluded for reasons of exigencies of their profession.”
You can read the entire memorandum here – CJP-Memo-to-ECI-10th-July-2020