My name is Reba. I think I am 37.
The village I was born in, a few hours out of Kolkata, is one of those places nobody knows about. You don’t come to know about it even when you walk through the middle of it. And it’s for that reason that I have no voter card, no ration card, pretty much nothing. So I have never voted.
I have four children. Three daughters and a son. Today was a difficult day. While cutting vegetables at one of the nine houses I work in as a maid, I cut my hand. A nasty gash. I poured water on it and pressed it with a damp cloth until it stopped bleeding. But by the time I reached the third house of the day, the strong phenyl and acid combination I used to mop the floor had infected my wound. I blinked back tears and carried on. After 13 hours of work, with on 15 minutes for lunch, I got home. Instead of collapsing on my bed, I repeated my actions of the day – wash, sweep, clean, dust, cook. This time I was working for my home, my four children, my husband.
Yes, I can see how a lot of you will look at me as soon as I say I have not voted. My daughters — I’ve educated them, one of them is even doing her Bachelor of Arts from Delhi University — look at me the same way. But you don’t understand. You don’t understand that I don’t live in the same world you live in.
You sit in your rooms, debating whether India ought to take a stand against the Naxalites, typing furiously into your laptops about whether or not the price of petrol is inflated. What you don’t understand is that my bicycle and I really don’t care.
I care about feeding my children, I care about helping them escape this torture I’m living through. I care about being able to smile on my deathbed and consider my life determined solely by the quality of life my children live. And nobody actually helps with that. Not one party.
It all sounds very fancy. It all sounds as if they have these grand schemes to help us, but that’s all they are: schemes. I don’t vote because even though I now have an Aadhar Card. Even though my daughters are educated and smart and talk of how important it is to vote, I’m jaded. I’ve been sidelined, ignored, forgotten by the entire political scene. So much so that I don’t ever remember being part of it.
My daughters say I cannot complain about my politicians if I don’t vote. That I can’t talk about a broken system if I don’t do anything to change it. But to me, voting for the politicians here is as useful as voting in Bangladesh – inconsequential. They make big promises, these big men, but I’m no longer affected.
Perhaps my attitude is defeatist, but you tell me this: what child is born with that attitude? We’re all born clean slates. Take something from that. Look at why I am this way. It’s because of a lifetime of disappointment.
The new generation is full of hope. The new generation is full of fire. And maybe this time I will vote. Maybe I will, not so my life gets better, I have given up all hope for that ever happening. But for the new generation. I pray the politicians won’t turn them into fragile, cynical things. I don’t know whom, I don’t know how, but I’m praying for somebody, and this time maybe I’ll do it with a ballot in my hand.
As told to Saba Sodhi in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Reba, who requested partial anonymity, spoke in Hindi and Bengali. This interview has been translated, condensed, and edited for clarity.
Photo credit: Vishal Darse