Kulgam: Outside the blue and white coloured mosque whose minarets towered high in the sky, few men squatted at a shop front watching women in veils enter a heavily guarded polling station. On the road which was lined with shuttered shops, slow-moving vehicles of police and other security forces travelled past the group of men.
Inside the polling station which lied in a wood and brick building of co-operative department only 15 people had turned up to vote by 2.30 pm from 906 voters at a polling booth. At another polling booth, only 37 votes were cast from among the 719 electors. A handful of veiled women were the only voters visible as the markets outside remained closed to “boycott” the elections on the call of the separatists.
Elsewhere in the district while youth clashed with the forces, people chose to stay away from polling.
In the first few hours of polling, none had turned up to vote at one of the polling booths at Nillow in Kulgam. While only one person cast the ballot at Nillow-B polling booth from 864 registered voters, at Nillow –A none turned up to vote from among 814 electors in the first three hours of voting.
The voters largely chose to stay away from polls in southern Kashmir with only 1.5 percent casting ballot in Kulgam district by 3 pm, 0.94 percent in Homshalibugh, 17.84 percent in Noorabad and 14.25 percent in Devsar Assembly segments.
In Kulgam town the roads wore deserted looks amid the shutdown and the traffic movement was thin. Security was visibly higher outside the camps as the gun-wielding force personnel watched from the rooftops of the buildings as the steel barricades were laid at most of the places.
In the town and many Kulgam villages, voters said that they chose to stay away from polls after the “heavy-handed” measures like the arrests of activists of Jamat-e-Islami (JeI) as well as the closure of Jammu-Srinagar highway for the civilian traffic.
Even as the mainstream political parties had criticised the ban on Jamat, which draws a strong cadre from the district and the PDP had pledged that it will revoke the ban it didn’t enthuse the people to vote.
“Why would we vote when the government has committed heavy excesses on us? It will be a betrayal with the blood of those who have laid down their lives for Kashmir’s freedom,” said a bearded youth, Irsahd Ahmad, 22.
Twenty-eight-year-old, Shiekh Showkat, said that he boycotted the polls “ against the harsh measures by the government like banning the JeI”.
“The Government of India has used the National Investigation Agency to coerce the separatists. The boycott should serve as an eye-opener that the people have rejected the elections,” Showkat said.
Javed Ahmad, 35, said that the people rejected polls to protest the curbs on religious freedom imposed by the BJP government. “The JeI has been running the schools to educate the children in the town, but the authorities have arrested a large number of its activists. This is nothing but to curb the religious freedom here,” he said.
As the youth rolled out the prayer mats outside the mosque in Kulgam town, a youth, Sahil Ahmad, who runs a jewellery shop, said that he fears that the situation in Kashmir may get worse. “The BJP is harsh toward the Muslims of Kashmir. It is only harassing us. Not only have the attacks on Muslims across India increased over the beef ban, but the police have even slapped false cases against the youth in Kashmir. The youths are being arrested and falsely implicated in stone pelting cases,” he said.
Sitting outside a shop at Sehpora area of Kulgam, Abdul Rashid, a 45-year old farmer, said that he chose to boycott due to the “fear after the spate of militancy incidents in the district. None from our village cast the ballot”, he said.
At a polling station in Kulgam, an election agent of National Conference, Zahoor Ahmad, said that the “people have chosen to stay away from elections due to incidents of stone pelting at many places. There were reports of grenade blasts in some areas as well.”
Along the Kulgam-Redwani road, a group of worried women were standing at a road as children of a family had not returned home after reports of stone pelting in Redwani. Elsewhere loud sound of possibly the tear smoke shells being fired by the forces and people taking a detour to reach their destinations due to clashes between the youth and the forces was witnessed as the polling drew to an end by 4 pm.
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Updated Date: Apr 30, 2019 10:55:35 IST