Voted Today? Here’s Where the Ink on Your Finger Came From

Voted Today? Here’s Where the Ink on Your Finger Came From

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Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Sumit Badola

(The story was first published on 5/03/2019)

#IVOTED selfie on election day is one millennial trend that no one complains about. Ever wondered why we get inked before casting our vote? In this video, we speak about the history behind the violet line of democracy.

Elections are the most important event in a democratic nation. And a key factor in voting is the election ink.

In 1951, India held its first general election with 173 million eligible voters, who needed electoral sheets, polling booths and thousands of ballot papers and boxes. But most importantly, the voting had to be free and fair.

National Physical Laboratory’s Formula

Election Commission of India was dealing with the challenges of identity theft and duplication in voting. Mr Sukumar Sen – India’s first chief election commissioner — came up with the idea of using indelible ink. Each voter would be tagged with ink on the index finger of their left hand, and this ink was far from ordinary; it was a semi-permanent dye that lasted up to 15 days. India had not developed the ink yet. The solution would be to take it from the Great Britain.

But we had to prove we were truly independent and self-sufficient. Hence, the leadership decided to make our very swadesi ink. The chemists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) came up with a formula.

A mix of chemicals, dyes and silver nitrate – which when reacts with our skin, forms silver chloride. Silver chloride is not soluble in water, and clings to the skin. It cannot be washed off and thus, we got our own desi indelible ink.

Indelible Ink vs Smallpox Vaccines

The first election of 1951-52 used a total of 389,816 phials of this ink! Around the second general election, someone suggested the use of smallpox vaccines. Idea was to vaccinate/revaccinate voters before handing out a ballot paper as the mark remains fresh and detectable for a week.

But, a policy around revaccination, involving thousands of public health officials and holding election in a season when smallpox breaks would have been very complicated.

The idea of vaccination never saw the light of day and indelible ink became an inseparable part of Indian democracy.

Mysore Ink

In 1962, National Physical Laboratory gave the licence of the ink production to a small public sector paint manufacturing unit in Mysore.

Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd was founded in 1937 by Maharajah Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV, one of the richest men in the world at the time. In the General Election of 1962, Mysore paints supplied 372 923 bottles of ink to various states. Thus, the now famous Mysore Ink was born. Even today, 10 ml bottle is sent to NPL for quality testing.

Here’s some trivia: During demonetisation, the government and RBI used indelible ink to ensure every single person exchanged money only once. Each person was marked with the indelible ink, before exchanging 500 and 1000-rupee notes.

Today, Mysore Ink exports indelible ink to 35 other countries across the world. Each 10ml bottle of indelible ink can mark about 800 voters.

Next time you talk about India's contribution to the world, don't stop at 'Zero'. Remember to also mention the ‘indelible’ mark left by us on the globe!

(Participate in the second edition of The Quint's My Report Debate and win Rs 10,000. Write an essay on how to fix India and Pakistan's relationship. Submit now)

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