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Can a leper like me vote, question many

New Delhi: As Delhi gears up to vote, with political parties and the poll panel urging everyone to exercise their franchise, one section of citizenry are wondering why they are never involved in this constitutional right — the leprosy-afflicted and disabled beggars who line up before temples and other religious shrines.
“I would like to vote, but how does one do so. No one approaches us,” Purushottam, a middle-aged man afflicted with leprosy, told IANS.
Purushottam, who belongs to Odisha, has made the road outside the Sai Baba temple in Lodhi Colony his habitat, like around 150 other beggars like him, mostly suffering from leprosy or severely disabled.
Purushottam said he had a voter ID card some years ago, but it was “stolen”.
Jai Ram Kumar, 27, who is severely crippled but does not suffer from leprosy, carries an election advertisement of union minister and Congress leader Kapil Sibal on the top of his wheelchair. But does he have a vote?
“I don’t have a voter ID card. I cant go anywhere with this disability, and no official approaches us either,” Kumar, who stays in a crowded shelter in Lodhi Road, told IANS.
“No one comes to campaign for votes. No one comes to meet us,” Amar Singh, another disabled beggar who is from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, said as he adjusted his belongings on his wheelchair.
Paro, a well built leprosy-afflicted woman, said she had voted years ago when she used to stay in Kolkata. “That was when I was healthy.. Now I stay here.”
There is also Kundan Kumar, 25, a badly crippled man on a wheelchair, who has come all the way from Bihar with his young wife and baby. “I have no voter card, no Aadhar card. ?” asked Kumar, who lives in the shelters, or ‘rain baseras’, near the temple.
Ravinder Kumar, another man crippled with leprosy, told IANS: “We have no pehchan patra. No one asks us, no one bothers… Are you an official who will get us one,” he asked.
But they are very much in demand on certain “auspicious” days of the week, mostly Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, when those visiting the temple feed them with pooris, halwa or gift them blankets. The rest of the time, they find themselves a shunned lot.
Purushottam, who lives his life out of his wheelchair, wanted to show the IANS correspondent the copy of his application for an ID card. He put aside his prosthetic limb, bent down to unlock a steel box hidden beneath his wheelchair and pulled out photostat copies of applications for the ID card, as several passport sized photographs of his tumbled out. “See, I have these application papers with me.
Please tell me how I can get a voter ID card. Can a leper like me vote?,” he asked.
Priya Phukan, 54, who belongs to Assam, is well read and speaks flawless English!. Phukan, who has an air of quiet cynicism about him, said: “I used to vote when I was in Assam. I left everything to come and live here.” Phukan, who said his son is a sub divisional officer and his daughter a postgraduate all living in Assam, left home after discovering he has contracted leprosy, which is a fully curable disease.
Asked if poll officials or political parties had approached him, Phukan asked cynically: “Why should they come to us?”
“We don’t count, you see.” (IANS)

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