Surrounded by troops, filled with emptiness

Surrounded by troops, filled with emptiness
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SRINAGAR: Armoured CRPF and JK Police personnel guarding polling stations and idle polling staff waiting for voters were the scenes at many polling stations in Srinagar on Wednesday. The Tiny Tots School, the main polling station for Ward-36 of Fateh Kadal area in old Srinagar, known for vigorous anti-India protests, had nine polling booths for more than ten-thousand voters. By 10am, nearly four hours after voting time had started, the number of voters who had turned up was zero.
Situated at a stone’s throw from the Tiny Tots School is the home of one of Kashmir’s longest surviving militant commanders, Mehraj-u-Din Bangroo. Also close by is the home of recently killed Laskhar militant Fayaz Hamal, and of Kaisar, a young boy who was crushed to death by a CRPF vehicle.
The polling staff was sitting inside the rooms of the school building on the ground floor, idle, when this reporter visited in the pre-noon hours. The situation did not change much for the rest of the day.
At the hall of a government-run library in the interiors of Fateh Kadal, where two polling booths had been set up for the Syed Ali Akbar ward, four heavily armoured CRPF troops were guarding the entrance. A staircase led to the hall above the library, whose door was guarded by another four CRPF men. Inside the hall, polling staff sitting in a row were waiting for voters. The voting machines in front of them were covered by a cardboard sheet.
“You are the first civilians who have visited us,” said one of the polling staff to reporters. A minute into the conversation, a police officer came up the staircase and called us outside. He inquired about our identity, then commanded his men to not allow anyone inside.
“The men here have put their lives at risk. We cannot allow anyone entry inside,” said the officer whose name and designation plate was hidden by a jacket.
The six polling booths at Kashapa High School and five polling booths at Caset School were also dominated by men in uniform and polling staff. The Kashapa School was the more heavily guarded: it had a CRPF truck and two police bullet-proof vehicles outside the gate. Inside, the lawn was filled by policemen and paramilitary troops. Inside three classrooms of the school, many of them were sitting on benches.
The polling staff at Caset School was taking a sunbath in the lawn. The place was guarded by nearly 20 men in uniform.
“We have three booths here, which have 672, 1,152 and 872 registered voters. None have appeared to cast their vote,” said a polling official.
The story of another two polling stations for Ward-34 was the same.