Deepika Chaudhary hunts for a name in an election register and compares a face with a photograph, one of her colleagues updates data to a list and another inks the left-hand index finger of a voter at one of several polling stations run by all-female staff to encourage more Indian women to vote.
As India on Monday conducted the fifth of the seven-phase general elections held between Apr. 11 and May 19, all-women voting booths have been a trend setter in a country where female voter turn out has traditionally been low even as it started picking up recently.
In 2009, the female turnout was a mere 55.8 percent as compared to 60.36 percent male participation. In the last 2014 elections, the male turnout was 67.15 percent while as only 65.6 women voters came out to exercise their franchise.
To narrow down the gender gap in electoral participation in the world’s largest democracy, which holds parliamentary elections every five years, the Election Commission of India, for the first time, ordered that one polling booth having all female staff be set up in each of the 543 constituencies so that more women come out to vote freely.
In one of the five polling booths being operated by women in the Anjar town of the western Gujarat state where voting was held on Apr.23, a large pink carpet welcomed voters to a room guarded by a female police officer and decorated with a colorful arch of balloons.
A large number of women dressed in bright colored saris, the traditional Indian dress, with babies in their arms waited in a queue.
There were men also in the queue as the pink voting centers managed by women are gender neutral for voters.
Inside the booth, Deepika Chaudhary and her two colleagues, all dressed immaculately in white with pink ID cards pinned to their chests, were busy with their day’s routine, under the watchful gaze of the officer in charge – also a woman.
However, two observers of political parties were men.
A bell sounds to indicate that yet another person has cast their vote. A blackboard is frequently marked with a white chalk with the number of voters who have cast their ballots at the center. Until afternoon, 466 men and 395 women had used their right, reflecting the gender gap still existed.
"This (all-female staff voting stations) is a kind of motivation for female voters because if there is male staff a woman feels shy," said 29-year-old Deepika, who has been an election worker earlier as well but is working in an all-women's center for the first time.
She denied that the initiative was linked to women safety concerns in a country where 38,947 rapes were reported in 2016 and where crimes such as femicides are common and females face widespread discrimination in almost all spheres of society.
ECI spokesperson Sheyphali B.Sharan said that the aim of these centers was to make the voting process more "comfortable" for women.
She told EFE that the centers staffed only by women had also been established in past elections but that this was the first time that the commission has made it mandatory to have at least one per constituency.
According to her estimates, there are many more than one such centers in each constituency, taking the total figure to over 543 throughout the country.
Some of these centers began using pink in their decorations as the color is generally associated with women, something that the election commission is trying now to stop after realizing that one of the parties of the southern Telangana state is also identified with this color.
"We don't want to be associated with any political party," she concluded.