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Muslim Woman 'Bullied' by BJP's Madhavi Latha Left Without Voting, Claims BLO

Madhavi Latha was booked for allegedly forcing burqa-clad women to lift their veils at a polling booth in Hyderabad.

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One of the Muslim women who was subjected to forced "verification" by Madhavi Latha, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) candidate in Hyderabad, at a polling booth in the constituency on Monday, 13 May, had returned without voting, the Booth Level Officer (BLO) of the polling centre told The Quint.

M Aruna, the BLO of booth 46 in Hyderabad's Asmangadh in Malakpet, said, "I was doing my work when madam [Madhavi Latha] came in and asked four burqa-clad women seated in the polling booth if they had cast their votes. They said that they were waiting to do so. She randomly asked for their ID cards and demanded that they remove their veils so she could check their faces."

"Madam then alleged that one Muslim woman's ID card photo didn't match her face and demanded that the Muslim woman show her Aadhaar card too. The woman said she didn't have her Aadhaar card on her, and she returned without voting. I am not sure if she came back to vote again."
M Aruna

Latha questioned a woman police official at the booth about this, and the official said it was not their job to verify such things, the BLO added.

The BJP leader, who is contesting against four-time Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, was booked by the Malakpet Police on 13 May – the day of the fourth phase of polling in the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections – as she allegedly demanded ID cards from several burqa-clad voters and forced them to lift their veils at the said polling booth.

Hyderabad Collector, in a response to a post by fact-checker Mohammed Zubair on X, stated: "A case is registered in Malakpet Police Station against Smt Madhavi Latha, Contesting candidate, BJP under sections 171C, 186, 505(1)(c) of IPC and Section 132 of the Representation of the People Act [sic]."

Another case was registered against Latha later in the day at Mangalhat police station for allegedly obstructing the duties of a police official in Hyderabad's Goshamahal Assembly constituency, where BJP leader T Raja Singh is MLA.

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A Viral Video & 2 FIRs – What Happened on 13 May?

In the purported video that went viral on social media, Latha is seen demanding ID cards from Muslim voters wearing the burqa and asking them to lift their veil so she could "verify" their identity. 

"Who is this in the photo – and who are you? Show me a different ID card… your Aadhaar card," Latha is seen asking one of the voters, to which the voter replied: "I only have this ID card with me now."

"When was this ID card made," Latha further asked the voter.

After the video drew widespread flak, with many accusing Latha of 'bullying Muslim voters', she told news agency ANI: "I am a candidate. As per law candidate has the right to check the ID cards ... without the facemasks. I am not a man, I am a woman and with a lot of humbleness, I have only requested them – can I please see and verify with the ID cards? If somebody wants to make a big issue out of it, that means they are scared."

Speaking to The Quint, BLO Aruna said, "We haven't been asked to lift anyone's veils. Our job is to guide voters on what to do. We were just doing that." 

The FIR filed at Malakpet police station based on Aruna's complaint – a copy of which has been accessed by The Quint – alleged:

"Smt. K. Madhavi Latha took [woman's name withheld to protect identity] ID card, lifted her niqab without her consent, and stated that her ID card photo did not match her actual face. She instructed her to return home and check with her Aadhaar card by removing her niqab for a thorough check before allowing her to enter. Subsequently, [woman's name withheld to protect identity] returned home without casting her vote and she left the polling location." 

The BLO confirmed to The Quint that the three other women who were subjected to "verification" did cast their votes. 

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However, purported visuals from across the city showed that Latha had visited other booths and carried out a similar "verification" of burqa-wearing voters. 

Later in the day, a second case was filed against Latha and BJP workers for allegedly using dummy EVMs to 'manipulate' voters in the Goshamahal Assembly constituency, which falls under the Hyderabad Parliamentary segment.

In a statement by G Satyanarayana, an official from the Mangalhat police station, said that he had taken two BJP workers into custody for "canvassing for the BJP" in the Assembly constituency by "showing dummy EVMs with BJP party symbols."

"Madhavi Latha, along with her followers, came to the police station and argued with me and obstructed my legitimate duties by taking away the above-said respondents along with the dummy EVMs with BJP party symbols," the statement by the police official added.

The case was filed under Sections 353 (uses or threatens to use criminal force specifically to deter a public servant from performing their duty) and 224 (illegal obstruction to lawful apprehension) of the Indian Penal Code.

Why Are Latha's Actions Problematic?

On 14 May, Telangana for Peace and Unity, a citizen rights forum, wrote to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the state, demanding action against Madhavi Latha. 

"We are filing the present complaint against the Bharatiya Janata Party and their MP candidate from Hyderabad, Madhavi Latha, for intimidating voters … Due to such behaviour, the voter turnout of Muslim women voters was potentially adversely impacted for the rest of the day..."
Complaint by Telangana for Peace and Unity

As per the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, only the presiding officer or a person authorised by them can verify the elector's identity. The rules state:

  • The presiding officer may employ at the polling station such persons as he thinks fit to help in the identification of the electors or to assist him otherwise in taking the poll.

  • As each elector enters the polling station, the presiding officer or the polling officer authorised by him in this behalf shall check the elector's name and other particulars with the relevant entry in the electoral roll and then call out the serial number, name and other particulars of the elector.

As for women wearing ghunghat or burqa, the Handbook for Presiding Officer by the ECI states: "If sufficiently large number of 'pardanashin' (burqa-clad) women electors are assigned to your Polling Station, you should make special arrangements for their identification and application of indelible ink on the left index finger by a lady Polling Officer in a separate enclosure having due regard to privacy, dignity, and decency."

The Quint has reached out to the CEO of Telangana for comment. This story will be updated as and when we receive a response.

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The letter by Telangana for Peace and Unity added that there is "no justification in law, whatsoever, for Madhavi Latha to intimidate voters, demand that they unveil themselves, take their ID cards or ask personal questions of their personal information to establish their identities."

On the day of polling, in Telangana's Nizamabad constituency, the BJP's candidate Arvind Dharmapuri also allegedly found fault with Muslim women wearing the burqa to polling booths. 

In a purported video that surfaced on social media, Dharmapuri was seen raising his voice at a polling official, asking her why burqa-clad women were allowed to vote. 

"How will we know if they are voters or not? Are you wasting time here or doing your duty?" he had asked the official.

Dharmapuri's behaviour also drew flak on social media. "Candidate has no right to question on #Burqa or #Niqab. There should be female persons in polling booth to check the candidates. Shame on #Arvind Dharmapuri bjp candidate nizamabad [sic]," Hyderabad-based activist Khalida Parveen wrote on X.

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Topics:  Hyderabad   Asaduddin Owaisi 

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