At Karimabad village of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, scores of youngsters are milling around the martyrs' graveyard. The soil on some graves looks fresh, as if the dead have been recently buried in them.
Last year in December, seven civilians, most of them from this village, were killed by security forces retreating from the site of an encounter in the adjoining Sirnoo village. Three militants were killed in the encounter, but the memories of the bloodbath that day are still fresh in the minds of people.
“How can I forget that they killed (19-year-old) Shahnawaz,” said Isaac, who gave only his first name, “He was only offering water to an injured protester. How can I forget that day. If I vote, I will be murdering him again.”
At shopfronts, elderly men talk sarcastically about the ongoing election, the final leg of polling for the Anantnag parliamentary constituency. “There will be 99 percent voter turnout,” one man with a beard said in a serious tone.
“In some polling stations,” the shopkeeper in Kareemabad responded.
“And what about the rest?” the bearded man asked with genuine curiosity.
“They will record 100 percent turnout.”
The group burst into laughter.
The roadside conversations illustrate the alienation, anger and apathy of the electorate in south Kashmir towards the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The four districts of Shopian, Pulwama, Kulgam and Anantnag were at the epicentre of mass unrest in Kashmir following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
While a semblance of normalcy has gradually returned to other parts of the Valley, south Kashmir continues to reel under tensions. From the past four days, mobile internet has been suspended. Security forces have put dozens of youth into preventive custody to avoid any law and order disturbances. Despite this, protests were reported on Monday from several areas. At 3 pm, a little over two percent votes were polled.
According to officials, dozens of polling stations recorded zero percent turnout. The polling percentage has largely been driven by enthusiasm among the voters living in far-flung areas of the two districts, where people are cut-off from the tensions in the mainland.
The polling in the two districts will end the election for the volatile Anantnag parliamentary constituency, which was divided into three phases due to security concerns. While the situation remained largely peaceful during the first two phases, the third phase has witnessed violence.
According to reports, suspected militants lobbed grenades at four polling stations in Pulwama. On Sunday night, clashes were reported from dozens of places in the two districts as buses and trucks carrying polling staff and security personnel chugged into the poll-bound areas.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed. Dozens of polling stations were clubbed to avoid venturing into areas where militant or civilian killings have been reported recently, or where there is an active militant,” a senior police officer said.
Last night, the situation turned so dangerous that the state administration had to airdrop 24 members of the polling staff for Zainapora area in Shopian to avoid any confrontation with the civilian population.
“There has been some polling in Munlo, Shansmarg, Khrew, Hirpora, Kellar and other areas but it has not been not as per our expectations,” a visibly upset Aijaz Mir, a former PDP legislator who was present at Zainapora polling station, said.
At 11.45 am, 93 out of 871 votes were polled in Zainapora-A polling station, while 99 votes out of 997 were cast in Zainapora-B polling station.
With the polling stations closing at 4 pm instead of 6 pm, to allow the polling staff to leave the areas in daylight, officials are not expecting any major turnaround in the voting trends.
“By casting votes, we would be trading the blood of our martyrs. What has India given us other than spilling the blood of our younger generation? And even if anyone desires to vote, the polling station is five kilometres away,” Aijaz Rasool, who works as a teacher at a private school in Pulwama, said.
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Updated Date: May 06, 2019 19:33:41 IST