Taking the Baton to Change the Norm

Shalini

“I was so excited to be chosen as an election observer,” says Shalini from the village of Korakankattu in the Kandawalai DS division. 18 participants, 3 men and 15 women were chosen by PAFFREL as election observers for the Local Authorities election held for the year 2018. Shalini was among the 18 and was given training for 3 days to learn the diplomacies and methodologies that need to be followed during the election monitoring process. There was an excitement in her voice when she said, “I met the Elections Commissioner and was given an opportunity to speak to him during the training sessions. Rare opportunities for those of us who live in villages as we only see important people like him on television”. Three days of training was conducted under the European Union funded project by the project partner organization PAFFREL.

It is very unusual for a lady to act as an election observer, especially in the North. The cliché was that only men were eligible to play that role. Election observation is one of the key and crucial components of an election, where conflicts and hate speech likely rise. Yet, PAFFREL felt that women should be given an equal opportunity to learn and adapt themselves to handle a precarious situation. Shalini, though a graduate is very shy and an introvert who prefers her personal space. She said, “becoming an election observer was a golden opportunity for me as I have always wondered what goes behind the planning of elections as all I do is cast my vote and the only identity I bestow from participating in this democratic process is my purple coloured finger!.”

We asked her to list a few experiences she gained from this role play and the first thing she said was “respect!” “It doesn’t matter what age you are, when you are an election observer everyone looks up to you and respects you without any disparity of gender or age.”
Shalini was the only girl from the Korakankattu village and she brims with pride to say it out loud. She is not shy anymore to speak among a crowd of people or raise her voice to make an opinion. She commented,” although I am a qualified graduate I have never worked elsewhere and being selected as an election observer I was given the opportunity to work with a group of people.”

Shalini is one of the girls from the village, although educated, hesitant in stepping into the world of politics as they are strongly bound to their culture. As a member of the CSO forum formed by this OCEAN project she will be able to act as an election observer in the years to come. Shalini never thought she would take the baton but she did!