Of democracies

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By Erma M. Cuizon

Sun.Star Essay

Saturday, May 17, 2014


IT'S interesting to know about other democracies in the world and how they survive in the face of trials and militant threats. It is more interesting when it's about the largest free country, like India. Indian citizens exercise as one their extensive rights on freedom and equality even while there are different cultures among its people, different colors and creeds.

In 12 years as minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has brought successes into the state which most people of India hope he can do more extensively as their recently elected prime minister—to develop the country as a whole. It’s said that in Gujarat, there are wide, smooth roads, electricity in far villages, and foreign investments in business.
While in other parts of the world, such as in the Middle East, the effort of countries to keep peace with each other continues to flicker, India remains as a country of many cultures and languages even while it is firmly united as one nation. The other thing worth the cheer in the winning of Modi and his party in the recent election is the fact that his victory has shaken a political dynasty, this one of the Gandhi clan.
As the world's largest democracy, India has over 800 million voters, the biggest in the world in one democratic nation. And it’s said that 500 million voters have voted in this recent election. These people of India with varied cultures speak several languages and have different religions, music, architecture, food and customs.

And they stay free. As one simple plantation worker in a tea estate in Assam told a reporter, “I know the politicians don’t keep their promise. But it is my right to vote and I must do it as an Indian citizen.”
What got my attention is an article in New York Times about the polling places in the high valleys in India and a hard-working election team that hiked to Markha Valley carrying electronic voting machines.

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“Hikers Spread Democracy in India” is a simple story of just one government election work team who believes in every citizen's right to vote.

The walk to Markha Valley reminds me of our country’s voters in the high mountains who would walk miles uphill and wade down rivers to get to the school house in the village where elections are held.

Here in the Philippines, a kasambahay who used to be assigned as the watcher of a barangay political party in Pinamungahan during Election Day said they walked miles, too, “sa patag ug sa bakilid, mana-ug, unya motungas” for a quick two-day job worth P800.

The Indian election team set for Markha Valley was to serve the voters waiting for it to arrive so they could finally vote. The team of five was composed of young government employees who are able to walk far, taken from their day jobs to do temporary but vital work during Election Day to ensure fair and free voting.

A Buddhist region on the Tibetan Plateau, the 12,500-foot-high village the team was going to was isolated and there were only 114 voters there, residents of mud-brick homes. But to the people, every voter has the right to vote.

The hiking was mile after mile on sand in the desert and rocks under riverbeds. At the Zanskar river, which has no bridge, the team used a hand-pulled zip line with a wooden crate attached to it and crossed the waist-high water one by one, very carefully.

Then it was night. It was five hours since they started walking up the mountains even though the locals would say the village was only two hours away.

For lack of hiking backpacks, the team decided to rent a pony to carry the luggage, even while they took more care in clutching the voting machines close to their chests.

It had been 10 hours of hiking in a roadless valley. At the end of the polls, 100 of the 114 voters voted. And this is 88 percent of the total votes in the valley.

The people of India try their best in the exercise of freedom. (ecuizon@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 18, 2014.

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