Instead of dry government advertisements encouraging Indians to vote, the Gujarat office of the Election Commission of India has released a comic book ahead of the state assembly election on December 9. Titled Sentinels of Democracy, the 40-page comic simplifies in Hindi and English the voting process and emphasises the significance of casting votes.
The comic book has been written by sisters Kanan and Kelly Dhru, the creators of the webcomic LawToons which explains Indian law to children, and illustrated by students at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. It touches upon the importance of democracy, citizenship, fundamental rights and voting, and includes stories about the effort put in by the Election Commission and booth level officers to ensure a smooth voting process for each citizen, even when it means setting up a booth for a single voter in a remote area.
“The comic book has stories of dedication and hard work and shows how a democracy can be fabulous,” said Kanan, who is a lawyer practicing in Ahmedabad. “The idea is to encourage young voters to be inspired to vote and to simplify the process for them.”
Former Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat Anita Karwal came up with the idea of the comic book in collaboration with the Research Foundation for Governance in India, an Ahmedabad-based think-tank. They wanted to reach out to young voters, particularly young women who had recently married.
“Women get married and move out of their home and constituency and don’t bother to register as a voter in the new area and nobody really encourages them to either,” said Kanan. “The dropout rate of women voters in this category is high throughout India and we have included stories to address this problem.”
In one story, a married woman named Asha is on her way to the beauty parlour in her car and asks her driver why the streets are empty. Her driver tells her that it’s election day and asks if he can take some time off and go vote, but she dismisses the idea and tells him that voting is useless.
Over the course of the day, Asha encounters various people who enlighten her about why elections are integral to democracy.
In other stories, the Dhru sisters focus on the significance of every single vote, even if people only choose the option of NOTA – none of the above. One of these stories is titled One Vote and told through the perspective of Murarilal, an election candidate who, in his nervousness about the results, forgets to send a car to pick up his wife and mother to take them to the polling booth.
Murarilal loses the seat in his constituency by one vote and reflects on the importance of each vote in his speech.
The book, available to read on LawToons, talks about the electoral process in an engaging way. For instance, Kanan relates the experiences of a booth level officer unable to get to her duty on election day because of responsibilities at home. “Through meetings with the Election Commission of India representatives, I learnt about heartwarming stories of efforts made by polling officers during this time,” Kanan said. “Did you know that there is a village in Kashmir which only has 35 people? Officers trek through deep snow with the EVM machines to ensure that those 35 people can vote.”
This is not the first time that the government has turned to comic books to disseminate information about various departments. A series of Hindi comic books have been released by the Central Reserve Police Force, India’s largest paramilitary force, since 2015. With titles like Sardar Post: Ek Shaurya Gatha and Ayodhya ke Shoorvir, the comics paint the officers as heroes for the masses. At the release of Sardar Post in 2015, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said: “The Force is associated with many historical events and had earlier resisted a Chinese attack at Hot Springs, Ladakh, on October 21, 1959, participated in Bangladesh War in 1971, and foiled a terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001… This comic book will motivate the youth and children and also let the people know about the valour and sacrifice of unsung heroes of CRPF.”
In 2016, the Ministry of Urban Development had joined hands with Amar Chitra Katha to create a comic book around the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.