Trehgam: Shahmali Begum, mother of the father of Kashmir’s azadi movement Mohammad Maqbool Bhat is more hurt than livid. She is struggling to talk herself up. A tear or two are lurking over her eyebrows that have seen millions of them flow over the years. She takes breath before narrating what hurt her emotions.
On Wednesday morning, Shahmali’s walk back home from her daughter’s residence was interrupted and disturbed by a taunt from an old lady in the neighbourhood.
“Mali, did you vote?” proved to be more than a death rattle for the grand old lady of Kashmir, often addressed as ‘Mother of the Nation’ in the azadi circles.
“I am hurt by the taunt. I really felt bad about this. How could people expect us to vote? Voting really hurts our emotions. For me voting is akin to betrayal to the thousands of Kashmiris who laid their lives in bid to liberate Kashmir from Indian occupation,” Shahmali told Kashmir Reader in one of the rooms of her old house with walls dotted with posters adoring Maqbool Bhat and many other slain militant commanders and calling for election boycott.
Contrary to the pre-conceived notion, Trehgam experienced decent turnout; more so at Government High School.
An upset Shahmali doesn’t want to hear about people coming out in herds to exercise their franchise.
“In this village many like Maqbool Bhat have sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom. Those who vote have weak conscience and get easily lured by pro-India parties to vote. I want to tell all of you that azadi is the only solution,” says Shahmali.
She has seen all five of her sons sacrificing in one way or other for the azadi movement. Four of them have been killed and the surviving Zahoor Bhat has become a frequent to various jails across Kashmir, his latest tenure behind the bars has already been more than six months.
Majority of ‘Maqboolabad’, name given to the mohalla that houses around 50 residential buildings including Bhats, has stayed away.
Barely 200 meters from Bhats, a lady, possibly in same age group as Shahmali, presents a picture of resilience, of a different kind though. She has defied her frail frame and limping age to make it to the polling booth. It is her ‘12th ballot’ thus far in her life, and she doesn’t want to waste her ‘privilege’ this time around as well.
“Why should I waste my vote? I have been voting for ages but I won’t tell you who I voted for,” says the lady accompanied by a young woman who didn’t let her reveal her name.
On the ground, it appears that entry of slain pro-freedom leader Abdul Gani Lone’s son Sajad Lone into poll fray has bolstered the turnout. And with Lone family’s native village in vicinity, Abdul Salam Bajad, the candidate for Lone’s People’s Conference for Baramulla constituency seems to enjoy a good support base in the village with PDP and NC not far behind.
As Shahmali disappears into her newly constructed one-storey house, a stare at posters sporting Maqbool Bhat’s youthful photos and banner with a message ‘no election, no selection, only boycott’, brings a reluctant tear or two into her cheeks, wrinkled by years of suffering, separation and sons’ deaths.