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Lok Sabha polls: In south Kashmir, campaigns remain muted; scores of youth arrested on stone-pelting charges

The hillside village of Payeer in southern Kashmir's Pulwama has not seen any political leader come to campaign for the parliamentary polls which will be held here in the last phase of elections in Kashmir on 6 May. No banners have been hoisted at any of its lanes or bylanes.

Last Tuesday, some vehicles of security forces had stopped outside a single-storey house here while the family members were sleeping. The family members were asked to gather in the courtyard, after which the forces arrested Mushtaq Ahmad Ganie, the teenaged son of 50-year-old Sara Begum. Ganie was among 7 youth arrested by security forces in raids that night.

 Lok Sabha polls: In south Kashmir, campaigns remain muted; scores of youth arrested on stone-pelting charges

Sara Begum, mother of Mushtaq Ahmad Ganie. Nisar-ul-Haq

Local residents said that after the arrests, they went to a nearby army camp, where they were asked to give an assurance that the local boys won’t indulge in any stone-pelting ahead of the elections in the district. While the assurance was given, the youth have not yet been released.

Ghulam Hassan Khan, a local resident, said that unlike other villages of south Kashmir, Payeer had remained peaceful even during the peak of the agitation witnessed after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in 2016.

Ganie’s mother, Sara, said that her son was arrested even though he had never indulged in any incident of stone-pelting. “He was doing odd jobs to eke out living. Recently he had begun working as a painter along with his elder brother in Anantnag's Bijbehara area,” she said.

Scores of people have been arrested in south Kashmir ahead of the upcoming phases of the Lok Sabha election on 29 April in Kulgam district and 6 May in Shopian and Pulwama districts.

The campaigning for Kulgam ended on Saturday.

According to senior police officials, in Pulwama district alone, at least 100 youth have been arrested recently on charges of stone-pelting, out of which around 30 were arrested in the last 2-3 days. Cases of stone-pelting have been filed against youth in Shopian district as well.

“We have identified areas where there is a possibility of stone-pelting on polling day in Pulwama. We will beef up security there,” an official said.

On the day that Ganie was arrested, the forces also picked up two other persons, 17-year-old Danish Maqbool and 25-year-old Showkat Maqbool. Their uncle, Shabir Ahmad Baigh, said that he, along with other locals, visited a nearby army camp, where they were told that the two youth have been detained by the police.

Nazir Ahmad Shah, father of Farhan Nazir Shah. Nisar-ul-Haq

Nazir Ahmad Shah, father of Farhan Nazir Shah. Nisar-ul-Haq

“The forces raided our house and picked up the boys late in the night. They work as tailors, and they are innocent” he said.

In the neighbourhood of the arrested persons, as elsewhere in Pulwama, instead of electioneering, one sees heavy deployment of security forces on the roads. Armoured vehicles remain stationed at barricaded roads, and on some main squares, the patrolling has been increased.

Just a few miles away from Payee, in Sirnoo village, where seven youth were killed in December last year in clashes with the forces, 50-year-old shopkeeper Ghulam Qadir Kar has not witnessed any electioneering.

“It doesn’t feel like there are elections. Nobody talks about the polls, no one has come to seek votes,” he said.

Instead, the ongoing poll process has increased fears of violent incidents. "These days, I close the shop early in the evening, as security forces may be patrolling here,” he said.

Last Saturday, in another hamlet of Pulwama, police took int custody a teenager, Farhan Nazir from Uthmul, in a stone-pelting case that was registered against him in Shopian district. At his tailoring shop in Pulwama, Farhan’s father Nazir Ahmad Shah said that his son has been framed, and that he was taken into custody again even after he was granted bail by the court. “Last Saturday, the police called us saying that they had my son’s mobile phone with them. He had dropped his mobile at Keegam in Shopian, and the police said that he was indulging in stone-pelting. He has been lodged at a juvenile home in Srinagar,” he said.

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Updated Date: Apr 28, 2019 23:09:56 IST