Farha Khan, a resident of Shri Ram Colony in Delhi’s Khajuri Khas area was furious when Scroll spoke to her on Tuesday afternoon. Three days before, on May 25, when Khan went to vote at a polling booth in the North East Delhi constituency, the 25-year-old found that the word “deleted” had been printed across her name on the electoral rolls.

Farha’s sister, 28-year-old Rubeena Khan, had also met the same fate. The two sisters could not vote and the polling officers at the booth could not explain the reason why their names had been deleted.

“I have voted in every election since 2019, how can my name be suddenly deleted?” Farha Khan wondered. “My parents and my brother could vote. How is it possible that three people in the same home are on the [voters’] list and two are not?”

The Khan sisters were not the only ones in Khajuri Khas, a Muslim-dominated locality, who found on the day of polling that their names had been deleted from the electoral rolls. The matter was first flagged by volunteers of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party of India who had set up help desks outside polling booths of the North East Delhi seat.

“This time, we found an unusually high number of voters whose names had been deleted,” Yogesh Swamy of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party of India told Scroll. “These people had no clue about this. They came to know only at the polling booth.”

Swamy contested the North East Delhi constituency as an independent candidate, since the Revolutionary Workers’ Party of India is not a registered party.

Scroll met voters from seven households in Khajuri Khas whose names have been deleted from the electoral rolls. Four of these families have shifted homes in the last few years, while three of them – like in Farha Khan’s case – have been living in the same home.

The voters alleged that deleting their names was a conspiracy targetted at keeping Muslims away as they would have voted against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. However, poll officials denied this claim. The electoral registration officer of the locality told Scroll that due process had been followed in all cases of deleting voters from the electoral rolls.

‘BJP did not want us to vote’

On May 25, Himanshu Thakur, a Revolutionary Workers’ Party volunteer was stationed at a voters’ help desk outside polling booth number 249 in Road No 18 of C block in Shri Ram Colony of Khajuri Khas.

“Many voters complained to us that their names had been deleted,” Thakur told Scroll. “I checked the voter list and saw that was indeed the case and most of these voters were Muslims. I felt something was fishy about so many voters’ names being deleted.”

Thakur then tweeted a video showing that several names on the voter list of road numbers 17,18 and 19 of C Block had been deleted. A copy of the list, which Scroll accessed, shows that the names of 92 voters had been deleted in these three roads alone. Ninety of these voters have Muslim names.

Thakur also cited a news report aired on the Dilli Tak news channel in which voters complained on the polling day that their names had been deleted from the list even as they had voted as recently as in the 2022 civic body elections in Delhi.

Voters whom Scroll met on the ground also made similar complaints. Farha Khan’s neighbour, Firdaus Alam is a case in point. Alam found her name had been deleted from the list, even as her brother Aftab Alam could vote. The Alams have been living in their Khajuri Khas home for more than two decades.

“We live in the same house and our polling booths are also the same,” said Firdaus. “If there was something wrong with our address or other details, his name should also have been deleted.”

Firdaus Alam found that her name had been deleted from the voters' list even as his brother Aftab Alam was able to vote.

Ayyub Khan, whose family lives in an alley adjoining the Alam household, made the same argument. The names of Khan, one of his sons and two of his daughters-in-law were found to be deleted from the voters’ list. However, three other members of the family could vote.

When asked what could be the reason for the names being deleted, Khan accused the BJP of foul play. “I have been voting for years in the same booth and now I cannot,” he said. “The BJP knows that nobody in Khajuri Khas will vote for it, so it wants to stop Muslims from voting. They must have done something to delete my name from the list.”

The theory offered by Khan was echoed by all deleted voters Scroll spoke to. Allegations of voter suppression in Muslim-majority areas in other parts of the country have also been reported by Scroll.

If voting data of the polling booth number 249 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is taken as reference, the BJP indeed performed poorly in the area. Election Commission records show that in 2019, only 20 of the 746 votes cast in the booth were in favour of BJP candidate Manoj Tiwari. Congress’ Sheila Dikshit got 660 votes while Dilip Pandey of the Aam Aadmi Party received 46 votes. The numbers are in stark contrast to the overall result in the North East Delhi constituency as Tiwari defeated Dikshit by a margin of over 3.66 lakh votes.

In this election, Tiwari is in a direct contest with Kanhaiya Kumar, the candidate nominated by the Congress-AAP alliance.

What did the Election Commission say?

Asha Chaudhry Malhotra, the electoral registration officer of the Karawal Nagar Assembly constituency, under which the Khajuri Khas locality falls, told Scroll that she would have to look into individual cases to be able to explain why voters’ names were deleted even as their addresses did not change.

“It is possible that when the survey was conducted, the voters were not present at their homes or the homes were locked out,” Malhotra said.

Electoral registration officers are the officials in charge of updating electoral rolls based on inputs from booth level officers who conduct door-to-door surveys to incorporate addition and deletion of names from the voters’ list.

For cases where the voters found their names deleted after having shifted homes, Malhotra said that the due process had been followed in each case. The Election Commission manual for its officials prescribes a standard operating procedure for deletion of voters who have shifted homes.

The manual says that the electoral registration officer needs to issue a seven-day notice to the voter that is to be sent to the voter’s old address via speed post as well as e-mail or SMS. The notice must also be put up on the electoral registration officer's notice board and the website of the chief electoral officer, according to the manual. If the voter fails to respond to the notice within seven days, the name will be deleted and an intimation of the deletion is to be sent via speed post to the voter's previous address, the manual says.

Source: Election Commission manual

Malhotra told Scroll that while notices had been sent through registered post to the old address of each voter whom the booth-level officers found to have shifted homes, the notice had not been sent on SMS or through any other digital means. When asked if there was any process to send the notice to the new address of voters, Malhotra said there was none.

“The voters too have some responsibility to inform the officials about change of address,” she said. “The window to get names added to the voters’ list was open till the day election was notified in Delhi. We have added names till the last day.”

The Election Commission manual says that voters need to fill up Form 8 in order to inform it about change of address and other particulars.

However, in Khajuri Khas, voters were unaware of any such provision. Shabana, 34, who found her name deleted from the list, said that after she got married three years ago, she had shifted from Block A in Shri Ram Colony of Khajuri Khas to Block C. “I received no information about my name being deleted,” she said.

Similar is the case of 87-year-old Jamila Begum. Two years ago, she shifted from her elder son’s home in road number 6 of Block C to live with her younger son in road number 4. “My name was not on the list when I went to vote,” Begum said. “I have been voting for more than 40 years, this has never happened. I do not know if I will live till the next elections.”

Begum’s family members said they had not received any notice at either of their homes.

Jamila Begum (87) has voted for more than 40 years but found her name to be deleted this time.

Former Indian Administrative Services officer Kannan Gopinathan, who has conducted elections as returning officer, told Scroll that it was essential to send voter deletion notices digitally. “If they have not done that yet, it should be done immediately,” Gopinathan said. “It is not a very efficient process to send notices via post.”

Yogesh Swamy of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party of India agreed. “It is the responsibility of the Election Commission to inform voters that their names have been deleted,” he said. “I believe that Muslim voters were removed from the list unfairly, but even if that was not the case, there needs to be transparency. I will take up this issue with the Election Commission.”