Kolkata: Housemaids in West Bengal seldom miss a chance to vote -- be it Lok Sabha, assembly or grass-root level elections -- fearing that they might lose benefits of government schemes like BPL cards, MGNREGA or Indira Awas Yojana if they abstained.
"I always vote, but I don't have a preference for any political party. If I fail to vote, my family and I could be in deep trouble," Sushama Mondal, a housemaid working at Manicktala in north Kolkata, said.
Asked to explain, Sushama, said the panchayat leaders in her village in Burdwan district would not allow her or her family members to avail the benefits of government schemes like BPL cards, widow and old-age pension, MGNREGA or Indira Awas Yojana if she did not vote.
During the last assembly election in 2006, Mondal claimed she had to walk eight miles to vote.
"At that time I worked at a house in Katwa. My village was about eight km from the town. For some reason, I did not get transport and I had to walk the entire distance. Fortunately, I got a transport while returning. I hope you can understand why I vote," she said.
Nilima Midda, who works at a house in Behala in the south, said she would cast her vote in her constituency, Habra, in North 24 Parganas district which will go polls in the third phase of polling on April 27.
Asked if she knew the candidates in the constituency, she smiled back, "I don't. Actually I don't need to know. I vote for a particular party."
Asked about her absence from work which would inconvenience her employer, she said she understood the problem. "But you should also understand my plight. I can face some harsh words at the workplace, but people at my village can do more harm, particularly to my family members."
The owner of an agency at Salt Lake that provides employment to untrained nurses and housemaids said most returned home to their villages to vote. "The maids take casual leave during the Lok Sabha or Assembly elections," she said.
"They don't miss other elections either like municipality or panchayat. Only those whose names are not on the voters list for some reason don't go. There are only few local women who work in my agency," she said.
Sonali Sen, who works in a private bank and is a mother of a four-year-old son, is worried that her maid has already said she would go to her village in South 24 Parganas district to cast her vote.
"If she goes home, she will not be back for a week. That is her practice. My husband's job involves touring and there is none at home to look after my son," Sen, who stays at Maniktala, said worriedly.
Her housemaid, who refused to be named, however, was adamant on going to exercise her franchise, saying she has to.