Outside a classroom turned polling booth, Manisha, a Class XI student, eagerly awaits her turn to vote for the ‘panchayat’ elections in her school. Inside, a teacher, who works as a presiding officer, and students manage the show.
A school election commission allocates symbols to each candidate. The contestants are given three days to campaign in classrooms, before the code of conduct is imposed.
Instead of selecting class monitors, Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in Vasant Vihar this month held elections for four ‘panches’ and a ‘sarpanch’.
Principal Kavita Rana says they are teaching students - 2,300 in all - the basics of democracy, and the responsibilities that come with it.
The move, Rana said, is aimed at making students learn the basics of electoral democracy. The elected representatives will be responsible for maintaining cleanliness, discipline, and adherence to school uniform codes.
“One of the candidates offered treating us with ‘samosas’ if we voted for him. Obviously, I will not vote for him and neither will my friends. Buying votes is wrong,” said Manisha. Another student said, “Lalalch buri bala hai. Vote usko do jo kaam kare (Greed is a vice. We should give our vote to someone who works)”.
“Each class is divided in four houses – Ganga, Yamuna, Alaknanda and Narmada. Each house nominates candidates for the posts and election symbols are assigned based on the house the candidate belongs to,” said a teacher.
A voting list with names of all students, roll numbers, parents’ names and address was kept in the polling booth where each student was handed out a slip after showing her identity card.
“We give them chits which have election symbols in different blocks. Students will tick the block of the desired candidate and put the chit in the ballot box. We mark the finger of each voter with black ink so that she cannot vote again,” said Sudhir Kumar, a student managing one of the booths.
The school started holding panchayat elections in April this year when polls were held for all classes except VI, IX and XI. Last week, polls were held for the three classes.
“My election symbol is toffee. If elected, I will maintain discipline, ensure that no one litters and help students in homework,” said Rahul from Class VI, standing for the post of a panch.
The results will be announced after counting is done by students. The counting will be video graphed. There will be an oath-taking ceremony after the results, presided by the principal.
“Books tell students about the election process but it is just theory. After taking part in the elections my students are more aware about the system. For instance, one student complained to me about a candidate offering to treat them in exchange of votes. I admonished the candidate and he apologised. This is how students learn through practice,” said Rana.
Teachers gave special lectures to all classes before initiating the election process. “There was a public notice about the elections. Students also have the option of recalling their representative if they are not happy with the performance,” said Sheeshpal, one of the teachers.