Anantnag, Shopian: “I may have voted once or twice in my lifetime, but not now. Should I vote for the government or politicians who are responsible for the killing of my son and facilitated its cover up,” asked Ahmadullah Khanday whose son Ishtiyaq Ahmad was killed in police firing in the 2010 agitation.
Khanday, in his 50s, listens to others in the room that reminds of his slain son at the first sight. A smiling portrait of Ishtiyaq neatly placed on the half-done shelf facing the door greets every one stepping into the room. Then, Khanday speaks: “It hurts me to see them vote.”
“In 2013,” he continues after a pause, “An Amnesty International team came to me to collect our case details. The lady in that team called me recently, informing me that investigations into my son’s killing had been shelved because CRPF stayed the process. And she was surprised to know that the J&K government let it happen.”
“Do you want me to vote for the same government,” he asked again.
Khanday lost his son in what is described as a terrible triple murder incident that happened during the summer agitation of 2010.
Ishtiyaq and his two friends, Shujaat-ul-Islam and Imtiyaz Sofi, were chased by police during a protest in Anchidoora area of Anatnag. The trio took refuge in a house in the locality, but police followed them and, killed them in cold-blood in the compound.
The incident has inspired a change in the name of the locality, which was earlier known as SK (Sher-e-Kashmir) Mohalla. The graffiti on the brick wall at the entrance of the locality now identifies it as Shuhada-i-Kashmir Mohalla.
Apart from the name, however, nothing much has changed here in terms of people’s participation in the poll process.
Presence of electorate has added charm to the multiple polling booths located in a government school here. By 9 am, 25 out of 954 votes had been polled in booth-A, and 43 out of 1119 in booth-B.
Women, elderly, and the youth were seen voting with enthusiasm. Many passionate voters had brought along their children to the booth.
Amidst polling, Ishtiyaq’s and Shujaat’s families seemed like the rare ones boycotting the poll process in Anchidoora. Besides the grief of losing their dear ones, they share the feeling of disgust towards those who vote in elections. And, from devastated families of Anchidoora to outraged relatives of Asiya and Neelofar of Shopian, a similar sentiment is prominent in the attitude of all victims of human rights violations in the recent years.
“I have been part of the family that has never participated in polls in any way. The incident of 1996 and Shujaat’s killing further strengthened our resolve to stay away from the polls,” says Batula, mother of Shujaat.
In 1996, Batula’s husband Ashraf Ahmad was picked, and later murdered, by infamous Special Task Force of police for being a Jama’at-e-Islami sympathizer. The locality where the family lives has come to be known as ‘Ashraf Abad’ ever since.
Batula has been working in a government department to support her family, which is now reduced to herself and her younger son Talib-ul-Islam.
“Since I didn’t go near the booth, I don’t know how many people have voted,” says Talib, a Class 12 student. “But all people here are liars. If you ask them why you vote, they will say they were forced or motivated, which is not the case. Seeing them vote pains us more.”
Miles away in Shopian district, the family of Asiya and Neelofar—victims of 2009 ‘twin rape and murder’ allegedly involving government forces—has vacated its ancestral house and shifted to their relative’s residence in the nearby Pulwama district. Since the incident, the family and residents of the district have been, so far unsuccessfully, fighting for justice.
The family was registered to vote in main town Shopian, but it didn’t turn up at the polling booth like majority of the residents of main town Shopian.
“Whom shall we vote for,” asked Shakeel Ahmad, Asiya’s brother and husband to Neelofar. “We are perhaps the most aggrieved family in Kashmir. Shall I now encourage the oppressors and oppression by casting vote?”
Shakeel believes that those who vote “are damaging the Kashmir cause.”
“I want to ask these voters ‘what do you get by casting votes?’. Do these politicians even help them in anyway,” he says, adding, “These politicians help no one among us. Yet these few voters damage our cause and the cause of Kashmir.”
Kashmir has witnessed a similar pattern in almost all elections since 1990. Even in the elections that were officially said to have recorded overwhelming participation of people, the families of victims have largely stayed away from the polling process.
During the campaign ahead of the ongoing parliamentary elections, the pro-India politicians have been promising justice and democracy to the people in general. But the promise too seemed to have made no impact on the victim families even as the root cause for dissociation of some among them from the poll process may not be limited to their personal loss.
“It isn’t about me having lost my son, but I have never participated in elections. They (pro-India politicians) promise skies before elections, but later they forget us. There is no point in casting vote,” said Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, father of Tauseef Ahmad who was killed at Gagran Shopian in CRPF firing last year.
“But people’s choice to vote is dependent on their personal point of view. We cannot ask them not to vote,” he added.