A resolve to never vote again

A resolve to never vote again
Abbas Rather

Budgam: A visitor from Srinagar has to travel 35 kms through narrow hilly roads from Budgam main town to reach Dalwan village. Inside the village, a potholed narrow street cuts through small hills to reach Government Secondary School Hardu. This school was used as a voting station on Sunday for elections to the Srinagar parliamentary street. It was attacked with stones by locals, and in the firing by government troops on the stone-throwers, Faizan Fayaz, 13, and Abbas Rather, 21, were killed.
On the other side of the school is a dispensary, which was closed on the day the two were killed. In absence of any emergency healthcare in the village, the duo were rushed to Chadoora sub district hospital (nearly 30km away), where Faizan was declared brought dead. Abbas was shifted to Srinagar for specialised treatment and died on the way.  The dispensary has only one doctor who does not stay for the entire day or for the night.
“The state of our locality is enough to show what development has taken place here in the past seventy years,” said Ghulam Nabi Dar, grandfather of the slain Faizan. “Our votes in the past elections did not even bring better roads, or a small hospital where a patient can be operated on in emergency. Now, when we refused to vote, we were hit by bullets. This shows how they treat us.”
In the 2014 elections, the entire Charar-i-Sharief segment of which Dalwan is part had cast 53,819 votes of its 77,048 registered voters. In Dalwan, more than 90 percent votes were cast. In this year’s election, not a single vote was cast. Dar, nearly 70 years of age, stayed away for the first time since elections began to be held under the Indian system.
Dalwan’s reason for staying away from polling booths has not been lack of jobs f0r youth, for its locals mostly derive their livelihood from agriculture. They wanted roads for better connectivity, uninterrupted electricity and good healthcare, for which they have been voting. Dar’s family is the perfect example of this. Of his more than 20 family members, only two are deriving livelihood from government services; the rest work on their agriculture land which includes orchards, paddy and vegetable fields.
Dar is satisfied with his earnings. In his life he has constructed two houses and has every comfort. But the departure of Faizan, whom he calls the apple of his eyes, not because he was the youngest but for his abilities, has created an absence that will never be filled again. Faizan, his grandfather said, had learnt three chapters of the Quran and was the topper in his school.
Dar said that Faizan would begin his day at 6:30am. “First he would go to the Islamic seminary for two hours, return and pack up his bag for school, return at 3, then again go to the seminary. He would spend his evenings doing homework. On Sunday, Faizan had returned from the seminary and had gone out to see what was happening at the school outside,” Dar said.
About 300 meters away from Dar’s residence, Abbas Rather’s family is mourning his death at their three-storey house. Fateh Mohammad Rather, Abbas’s father, is sitting in a corner of a room that is decorated by wall hangings. Abbas was the second of Fateh’s sons to be killed. His eldest son Abbas worked in Dubai and had planned to take Abbas with him. The passport that he had applied for Abbas arrived after his death.
Fateh Mohammad is a constable in the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police. He did not seem to be happy with his job. “I had promised my eldest son that I will voluntarily retire from the service once Abbas is placed. I was due to retire in June 2014 but fate had other plans,” he said.
Of Abbas he said, “He is a martyr I am proud of.”
Dalwan is a calm village. Around the homes of Abbas and Faizan, the silence is broken by cries of their relatives. Faizan and Abbas have become talk of the village. A local graveyard has been called martyrs’ graveyard because Faizan and Abbas are considered the first martyrs of the village. In the 30-year-old armed insurgency against Indian rule, Dalwan produced one rebel, next to whom in the graveyard lie Faizan and Abbas.
At Shah Mohallah, a locality in Chadoora, where a civilian named Shabir Ahmad, the sole bread earner of his family, was killed on Sunday, no vote was cast for the first time in the history of elections here. The brutalities during the summer uprising of 2016 and the three civilian killings post an encounter on March 28 at Chadoora had kept residents away from polling stations. Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, Shabir’s father, told Kashmir Reader that his martyred son had been insisting for days that the family does not vote in this election.
The killing of Shabir has now made his father and the youngsters in the area resolve to never vote again.
“We don’t count anywhere. It is the will of the youngsters who have controlled the streets. They rule,” Bhat said. Shabir’s mother, Zareefa, said her son had made her proud.
Before the voting began on Sunday, youngsters had decided in a meeting to not vote for anyone. Outside Shabir’s home, a dozen of youngsters gathered to interact with this reporter. Their only point was that they did not boycott the polls because they were denied development but because they have been denied freedom. They dismissed any question that connected the boycott with the lack of development in the area.
The disenchantment against the Indian system is so much that none of the families are interested in going to court against the troops who killed their children. For Faizan’s family, real justice is freedom from India. For Fateh, his faith in the system has waned because he could not get the killers of his first son punished.
“You know the system. Why do you ask me about it? I will wait for the justice of Allah,” he said.
Shabir’s family also believes that they won’t get justice but they have decided to lodge an FIR, in the hope that it may help them secure a job.
“Job has become our necessity now. This does not mean that we will vote again,” Bhat said.
During the re-poll on Thursday, no vote was cast in the polling stations in these areas.

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