(April 1, 2022) In 2018 while searching the internet for a new (coloured) voter id, Chaitanya Prabhu discovered that all the processes to register and upgrade were simple and swift. Yet, enquiring if his friends had their new and improved voter id, he was shocked to learn that many had not even registered to vote, and thus were unaware of the simple online process. It left him flabbergasted.
Determined to help his friends get a voter id done, he started a movement. “What started as a small action slowly took the shape of the Mark Your Presence campaign. By word of mouth the information spread, and many people started approaching me for their voter ids,” says Chaitanya in a conversation with Global Indian. The campaign evolved as a result of what people wanted. The need came from the masses and his movement gained impetus. It became so impactful that the Mumbai-based 23-year-old advocate at the Bombay High Court was awarded the UN India Award and Diana Award 2021 for his humanitarian efforts. For the then law student starting such a campaign in 2018, has reaped great rewards.
Lighting up young minds
His dedication didn’t escape the notice of the chief electoral officer, state election commission of Maharashtra and chief electoral officer of Delhi. They offered full support to Chaitanya’s non-profit and non-partisan organisation. Currently doing a master’s in public policy at St Xavier’s College, Chaitanya gained an insight into how policies are framed. The lawyer-activist addresses his two awards as “extreme light in the darkness.” Since he began, he has mobilised more than 26,000 youngsters to take their first steps towards being responsible citizens of a democracy. Today, Mark Your Presence has 430 volunteers, and 25 core team members.
Honoured to have been recognised with the highest accolade a young person can achieve for social action or humanitarian efforts, The Diana Award.
Thanks to the Diana Foundation for giving me this platform and the opportunity to be part of the Diana family @DianaAward #dianaaward pic.twitter.com/xBlxwRkwxc
— Chaitanya Prabhu चैतन्य प्रभु (@chaitanyavotes) June 28, 2021
“Mark your Presence also offers a leadership fellowship, where we train young people (between 16 and 22) to take part in strengthening the Indian democratic system, and turn every institution into a voter-friendly campus. Selected after diligent screening, they become part of our forum – a certificate and letter of recommendation from the election commission of Maharashtra,” says Chaitanya.
An activist soul
The lawyer-activist has visited top schools and colleges in Mumbai and Delhi for seminars and speeches to empower the youth to become politically aware voters, and choose representatives well – echoing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “I want to reduce the huge gap that lies between the young population and the people’s representatives so they make informed choices to make our country leap ahead with the right leadership,” says Chaitanya who is also a national level athlete.
An athlete, winning is ingrained in him, and so is perseverance. His sporty side played a large role in shaping this young activist. “I might be seen as a young person with full access to the election commission of Maharashtra but that has come after four years of slogging to prove my mettle,” smiles the young activist, adding, “Wading through bureaucracy hasn’t been easy.”
The founder of Mark Your Presence has represented Maharashtra in track and field events (400 meters) at nationals, and has won DSO national, open national and AISM national championships.
Incidentally, Chaitanya’s grandfather, MH Prabhu, who passed away a couple of months ago at the age of 101, has been his biggest inspiration. “He was a freedom fighter. My passion to make people aware of democracy and be conscious about their rights comes from him. Having grown up in his presence, it was impossible to remain untouched by the values he stood for, that led him to fight for our Independence; playing a crucial role in the nation’s history. I learned about rights from him,” says the doting grandson.
The extra mile…
“After having helped thousands register, I have come to see that it’s not enough. It led me to start educating the youth about the basics of the Constitution and how they cannot ignore their duty,” Chaitanya explains. Though he is compelled to admit that there is much more to be done.
His Youth Manifesto movement stems from this believe – to ignite young minds and encourage collaboration among long-time youth advocates, environmentalists, activists and emerging leaders. “We want the voices of the young people to be heard by those who matter,” Chaitanya remarks. Rampant discussion on topics that matter, Chaitanya helps these ideas reach changemakers. The team has been working on the manifesto for the past six months and expects it to be ready by May. The movement gained further momentum when Navya Naveli Nanda, the entrepreneur granddaughter of Amitabh Bachchan, and Malhar Kamble, founder of Beach Please joined Chaitanya.
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His idea is that the youth manifesto reaches relevant ministries, BMC commissioner and CM of Maharashtra. From working on the ground, reaching slums, high-rises, he feels everyone wants their aspirations addressed, “We as voters are given manifestoes but not asked about ours. My idea is to involve youth in creating a list of expectations and putting it forward,” he adds.
His larger aim is to increase the number of voter registrations, educate voters, and soar up the voter turnout. “I intend to keep scaling the initiatives,” says the idealist who inadvertently created micro-targeted campaigns like “art for right,” “rap for rights,” “speak for rights” and “she votes.” “Convincing is a difficult job, it requires patience but I never give up on this path of fighting unawareness,” Chaitanya signs off.