DANISH ZARGAR/AFZAL SOFI
SOPORE/BARAMULLA: In north Kashmir’s pro-freedom bastion Sopore, it was not a routine poll boycott day for paramilitary CRPF men manning the polling booths but a frustrating and agonizing experience.
The stone-pelting youths had barged into the compound of a polling station at Dangerpora on Wednesday morning and rained stones and bricks at the CRPF personnel and cops. The stone pelting had been so intense that the forces had to demand reinforcements—a call officials promptly responded by sending police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) and even army.
With additional deployment, the vast compound of the higher secondary school, housing the station with at least three booths, appeared like a joint barrack of army and paramilitary forces. It was difficult to sense that there were polling booths inside the school building.
The quantity of the stones dotting the school compound explained the gravity of the attacks. And if there was still any doubt, it was cleared soon: not a single door could be seen intact as the youths had targeted them as well.
“Clear order he nahi detey hai ye ki kya karna (they don’t give us any clear instructions about what to do). Phir kya hoga, do chaar din akhbar mai news ayeghi (What will happen eventually, only news would appear in media for a few days),” a visible frustrated CRPF man told Kashmir Reader team, which arrived at the station only minutes after the attack had taken place.
The youths hadn’t stopped, however. They were anxiously waiting near the school’s main entrance, perhaps intending to start another battle. The forces stayed put while few top officials of SOG inside the station were consistently updating their bosses about the situation.
An announcement had been made at the local mosque asking people not to vote. And it was showing effect as three booths (two of Dangerpora and one of Dooru) in the school with 2261 collective voters had only seen nine voters turn up by 10 30 am.
“Boycott karna hain, thek hai (They want to boycott polls, it is ok). Magar pathar kyun martey hain? (But why do they pelt stones at us?),” the CRPF man added.
Shortly, three vehicles of police and CRPF attempted to leave the station, but returned in reverse gear from the gate as the youths almost attempted another attack. After a brief pause an armored vehicle of the army entered the gate, taking the place of the vehicles that left the compound almost simultaneously. The main gate was then locked from the inside.
Not so far from Dangerpora, otherwise known for its moderate voter turnout in the previous elections, Dooru, the hometown of Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani, presented similar scenes of frustrated CRPF men.
A big crowd of youth was surrounding the main gate of the Dooro polling station also housed in a government school. They had just returned from inside the station after a round of heavy stone pelting at the building, which had only three CRPF men guarding the frontal veranda. The stones scattered at the surface inside, were only marginally less in quantity than at Dangerpora.
Visibly agonized and frustrated CRPF men didn’t allow Kashmir Reader team to go inside the booth.
“Kya dekhna hai andar? Yahan boycott hai, ab kya dekhna hai andar? Ye nahi dekh rahey ho pathar (What do you want to see inside. We are seeing a boycott, what do you want to go and check now? Can’t you see the stones?),” shouted one of the three CRPF men at the veranda when the team wanted to go inside.
“(Aap log aatey ho to ye aur zyada bhadak jaate hain (Media comes and the stone pelters turn more violent.) Hum mar rahay hain yahan, tum log be kyun marna chahtey ho? (We are dying here. Why do you want to die too?),” shouted another CRPF man.
As we are leaving, the youth armed with stones reentered the compound. Many among them started picking up stones scattered around the compound while a youth watching from the window of a house nearby guided them in choosing them.
Away from Sopore, at old town Baramulla, heavy stone pelting was going on at all five bridges since early morning.
Azad Gunj bridge, one of the stone pelting hotbeds in Baramulla, was dotted with police and SOG men in combat gear who turned furious with a miniscule disturbance.
When a videographer of a New Delhi-based news channel asked them, in English, if he could go closer to the stone pelting site for taking some shots, the entire posse of police and SOG men shouted at him. The purpose was only to tell him not to shoot the clashes.
“Is this a drama going on here? We are dying and you come to watch us,” a young cop among them said.
The situation threatened to turn ugly until a few cops ‘rescued’ the videographer and a member of Kashmir Reader team as well.