Palhalan: Sitting on the porch of her two-storey mud and brick house in Tantraypora locality here, Raja Begum is unfazed by the sounds of teargas canisters blowing in the lanes of the town known to many as ‘Gaza Strip of Kashmir’.
“These elections are a drama enacted by India to consolidate its illegal occupation over Kashmir. I’ve voted only once in my lifetime. I voted for Muslim United Front (MUF) in 1987 elections which were rigged,” says Raja, whose 28-year-old son Ansarullah Tantray, an MA English student, was among six people slain in firing by paramilitary forces during the ‘street intifada’ of 2010.
Surrounded by other women folk from her neighbourhood, Raja is cleaning vegetables at the porch. After a brief pause, she lifts her gaze.
“Elections mean nothing to us. It’s a meaningless exercise. Whosoever participates in elections is trading with the blood of my son and other martyrs of Kashmir,” says Raja. He son was killed near the local mosque in “cold blood”. Will a mother cast vote for his killers, she asks, as she points towards the lane leading to Abu Alla Masjid, where Ansarullah was shot dead.
At a walking distance from the Tantrays house, is a two-storey dilapidated house. It belonged to Ali Mohammad Waza who was shot dead by minutes after Ansarullah fell to the bullets. Inside the dingy room is Ali’s brother Meraj-ud-Din chatting with his three children, two of whom he adopted after marrying Ali’s widow in 2012. A smiling Meraj suddenly turns to a serious talk.
“India has lost today. Look at the army-occupied streets and lanes of this town. Their presence, their intervention in elections is our victory,” says Meraj, as he holds 7-year-old Tehmeena in his lap.
“The traitors are making beeline for the polling booths. But let me assure you that you’ll find none from the families of the shaheeds at these places,” says Meraj who has watched long queues of voters in the frontier Kupwara district beamed on news channels.
Recalling the 2002 Assembly elections, Meraj says that he was intimidated and forced by army to vote in the polls. Army’s ‘diktat’, he said, also left many youth homeless for weeks.
“It was my first and only experience of voting under the shadow of gun. I was too scared. However, it doesn’t scare me anymore,” says Meraj, adding that Palhalan has “always rejected India and its sham elections. And it will continue to do so.”
A few lanes from Meraj’s house is the single storey house of Noor-ud-Din Tantray who was shot dead on September 6, 2010, when he tried to remove an injured youth to the hospital. In the semi furnished room, Haja is keeping a close watch on her eldest son Nazir so that he doesn’t slip away in the small lanes of the town to “pelt stones at Indian soldiers.”
“Those who vote in the elections can never be our well-wishers. Voting for pro-India parties is like insulting the sacrifices rendered by thousands of Kashmiris. We’ll not let the sacrifices of martyrs go waste. We’ll safeguard it till end,” Haja says in a commanding tone.
Chipping in, her son Nazir says that the 60 percent of the population of the hamlet was “ready to lay down their lives for the ongoing freedom struggle.” He said the “decades of atrocities” have not weakened the residents but has strengthened their resolve to “take the cause to its logical end.”
“The security agencies tried every method to beak our resolve. Many youth were harassed, humiliated and forced to pick up arms. However, that didn’t deter us. We’ll never vote for India,” says Nazir.
“Palhallan is the land of martyrs. Here people don’t vote. We strive for azadi. And this dream will turn into reality soon,” he adds.