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Type www for democracy

Tannisha Avarrsekar

By Sukant Deepak

When she was 18, the year when she could vote, Tannisha Avarrsekar, who was recently conferred with the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts realised that gathering information about the registration process, as well as candidates took lots of time and effort.

"For citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. That's how 'Lokatantra' came along," says this 23-year-old.

The Fellowship of the RSA (FRSA) is an award granted to individuals that the RSA judges to have made outstanding achievements in the field of social progress and development.

Past and current fellows include leading activists, artists, writers, journalists and former politicians who have made significant contributions to their fields. While current fellows include Tim Berners-Lee and Judi Dench, likes of Stephen Hawking, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Benjamin Franklin have been previous fellows.

"I was absolutely thrilled about getting the news about the fellowship. As someone that studied in the UK, I was familiar with the historic repute and ground-breaking work done by the RSA. It was a great honour to find my name in the company of such awe-inspiring Fellows."

Avarrsekar's 'Lokatantra' is the first-of-its-kind, online platform, that empowers young Indian voters, with extensive and detailed information about their candidates and the voting process, verifies its authenticity, and then organises it in a manner which makes it quick and easy to understand.

"It also collects data on citizens' opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making process of leaders. Thereby shedding light on both the accomplishments of politicians — especially independent ones who can't afford expensive campaigns, as well as the problems faced by common people," says Avarrsekar, also been listed by Asia Times in '5 Social Entrepreneurs to Watch in India'.

A graduate from King's College, London, the young lady feels that it is a positive development to witness the Indian political landscape becoming more professional. "It's opening up to outsiders, making political participation more accessible and allowing greater opportunities to create change."

"Companies such as IPAC, that do political work in a corporate manner, help combat the nepotism and elitism that we had come to associate with Indian politics, by hiring bright youngsters, that for generations now have not known how to get involved with politics," adds this social entrepreneur.

Talk to her about youngsters' engagement with politics in India and she says that the voter turnout in among the youth has been higher in the last two elections than it has been for a long time before, so clearly there is a growing number of people understanding the role of politics in everyday life.

"But in a world where there is so much content and information out there fighting for your attention, getting young adults to engage with serious policy or social issues, is like getting children to eat vegetables. This is also largely due to a sense of disillusionment that young Indians have with politics in the country, due to the 'system' seeming too unyielding and corrupt, for any one person to make a difference."

Currently, 'Lokatantra' is beginning preparations for the BMC elections, where voter turnout doesn't usually cross 55 per cent. "We're going to try everything in our power to change that, through aggressive awareness campaigns."

Hoping to register at least 50,000 new voters this year and shed light on electoral problems including voter names missing from voter lists despite completion of proper verification procedure, she adds: "I'm also writing a paper on solutions to voter suppression in India."