Meet the 22-year-old law student and national athlete who is on a mission to turn youth into educated voters
Most people in college either think of getting a job or going abroad for higher studies or at present, think of building a startup.
While a lot of us are pondering on these options, a 21-year-old law student from Mumbai University, Chaitanya Prabhu, has embarked on a completely different journey. His mission – to educate and enrol citizens in voter lists by getting them a voter ID to cast their votes.
Despite having a decent academic record and being a national level athlete, Chaitanya’s sole interest lies in helping people by building a democracy with educated voters.
Speaking to SocialStory, the young changemaker says,
“65 percent of India is young and sadly, this population is not voting. So, I decided to take on the task to register young voters and convince them to vote.”
Chatinya Prabhu along with the teammates
This led to starting his organisation, Mark Your Presence, based out of Mumbai in January 2019. Since then, the organisation has played a vital role among the first-time voters in the General and Maharashtra State Elections, and to date, it has registered over 10,000 young voters.
The inception of Mark Your Presence
It all started when Chaitanya got his new voter card that was being issued at the time when he turned 18. After getting it, he tried to inquire if others had one. He asked a couple of his friends and realised that none of them had a card.
“It got me thinking – why is no one willing to get a voter ID? Later on, I researched the whole process and realised that its completely an online process, and extremely easy to register oneself. So, I called my friends and told them to register as soon as possible. They said they want to and I sent them a customised message of the steps to register (which I made). I also told them that I can do it for them if they don’t have the time to do it. Soon, I started registering some of my friends and found out, it's just a 7.30-minute process, and anyone can register by sitting at home,” Chaitanya adds.
Within no time, Chaitanya registered about 550 people for voter IDs. He later met the Chief Electoral Officer of Maharashtra, who, upon listening to his idea, assured support and assistance when required.
With the government official’s support, Chaitanya went on a spree. He registered young voters and adapted different techniques to reach out to a larger audience. “Register in 7.30mins' – I branded the process so that people could understand how easy it is to register,” Chaitanya says.
Turning youth into educated voters
Being a student himself, Chaitanya understands what it takes to convince the current generation youths about the importance of voting. With that in mind, Chaitanya visits various colleges and universities in the city, and gives a presentation titled, ‘Democracy Class’. So far, he has been to 42 colleges and five universities in Mumbai.
In his class, Chaitanya explains students about their right to vote, from where it comes from, and why is it important. He also teaches the young voters about how people have fought for the right to vote, how we are free today, and how we should not waste it.
Chaitanya adds, “I explain the students about how many elections we have had, who do we elect, and who do we hold accountable and for what. More importantly, I also explain to them what is a constituency, an assembly, and a ward, so that they all become educated and informed voters.”
Explaining the forms and procedure
Chaitanya says the process is quite easy and explains it step-by-step. He says, sometimes, the registration is done on the spot but, if time does not allow, he takes the contact details of the individuals and email them the procedure. Recently, he tried connecting rap music to voting as the youth follows it. His team made the first song in three different languages, spreading awareness about the importance of voting and registering for voter IDs.
Asked about the registration system, Chaitanya says, “All you have to do is log in to markyourpresence.org.in, and click on register now to register for voter ID. I have made the process easy so that everyone can register within minutes.”
Further, Chaitanya and his team have created a voter's manual to help individuals understand the process of voting better. The manual includes the essential things a voter needs to do before he or she goes out to vote. It also educates the voter about their constituency and the role of a Member of Parliament.
The team has also taken the effort to follow up with the concerned Booth Level Officers (BLO), whenever there is a problem. On its website, the voters can track their voter IDs, check if their name is on the electoral roll, their polling stations, and they can also find the detailed information of their nearest election office.
When asked about the funding, Chaitanya says, “We collaborate and work on a mutually beneficial basis. Everyone is a young student, so everyone is working to create an impact on society.”
The ground survey and the plan ahead
To understand the dynamics of the number of youth, eligible voters without a voter ID, Mark Your Presence conducts surveys across colleges and universities in the city. Once completed, the team understands the number of students interested in voting. However, they do not have access to information related to voting.
To counter this, Chaitanya made a website with all the details, where his team releases voter’s manual before the elections that inform voters about the role and functions of the MLAs, MPs, and corporators, so the first-time voters can analyse and then vote.
Chaitanya says, “We also release a list of all the candidates who are contesting, so information is available to people within minutes. We make our voter’s manual according to the surveys. We understand every voter's mindset and make the same.”
For the first-time voters, the manual is like a guide to the election, and currently, the organisation is doing the same for the upcoming Delhi elections. It has started registering students from the Ashoka University and in January, it will branch out to Delhi University, where it is planning to keep a seminar on the importance and impact of voting, as well.
Chaitanya says, “The Chief Electoral Commissioner of Maharashtra, Mr Baldev Singh, has been very supportive of our cause by excepting our suggestions and helped us with anything we needed.”
According to Chaitanya, it is easier to work with the support from the CEO office, which can advise the organisation on how to do things perfectly. Further, if any problem persists after the registration, they can guide the voters to the next steps.
In the future, Chaitnya wants to make voting an ongoing programme, as he believes it is a topic that needs to be discussed not only during elections but, throughout the year. Further, Chaitanya wants to make politics and voting more interesting for more participation and registration.
For this, he has bought a political ideology test that will tell every voter his ideology, depending on how he attempts this test. It will also help confused voters while voting for a particular party.
Since the focus is on educated voters, the team has planned to register acid attack victims, transgender, and blind students as well.
Chaitanya says, “The goal is that each school, each college, and each university should have registered voters. And, I will not stop till everyone registers for voter ID, because it's not about the next election, it's about the next generation.”
(Edited by Suman Singh)