Bandipora: Aloosa block in north Kashmir’s Bandipora witnessed 34 percent voter turnout in Panchayat elections held on Thursday. The voting was held only at 15 Panch wards out of a total 146. The rest 78 wards had no contestants and candidates for 58 wards were declared elected unopposed.
The 15 wards where polling was held today have a predominant Gujjar population. Some 8 kilometres from Bandipora, an unpaved road climbs uphill to Malangam village, where the polling station, set up in a government middle school, witnessed brisk polling. Women and men stood in queues to cast their vote throughout the day.
The area’s population, which locals put at about 1200 households, is spread over a vast area uphill. There is only one unpaved road, which culminates near the government middle school where the polling booth was set up. The majority of villagers walked all the way downhill to the polling booth to cast their vote.
People both old and young here have a dream: to see electricity in their homes once in their life. Many of them cited this as the primary reason why they came all the way down to vote.
Among other difficulties the Gujjar face is the lack of water supply. Water has to be fetched by their women from far-off places located downhill. The women then climb back uphill with pots of water balanced on their heads.
His white eyebrows glistening on a sun-beaten face which supports a white beard flowing to the neck, Alim Din, 83, shares the reason for casting his vote: “All my life, despite crossing the age of 80, I haven’t seen electricity in my village.”
“Even I haven’t seen electricity in my village all my life,” says 35-year-old Tanveer Ahmad Chouhan. But he also says that he voted to raise the suppressed voice of his Gujjar community. “Gujjars are only voting because of the discrimination they face at the hands of administrators. We are being ignored and sidelined in terms of development. We are thrown out of offices for demanding basic amenities. Politicians ask us for votes and later dump us. But to have facilities like others have, we Gujjars have come out to vote,” he said.
Not only electricity, the village lacks roads, too. Tanveer said, “The road is so primitive that even horses cannot walk on it. Women have to fetch water from two kilometres downhill, which often is dirty as animals also consume the same water.”
While the voting was underway, women in rows with pitchers and pots on their heads were making their way both uphill and downhill, fetching water from rivulets kilometres away.
Abdul Razzaq, 45, rued the step-motherly approach towards the Gujjar community. “The situation of the village is the same since I was born. I haven’t seen electricity all my life. For me to come out today and vote is for the hope that my children and future generations may be able to see electricity and other facilities in this village.”
In Malangam village, 773 votes were cast here today. Two women candidates for Sarpanch and five candidates for Panch were in the fray.
Other villages like Binlipora, Tarkpora and Mangnipora also witnessed moderate polling, though at Kehonoosa village only two votes were polled.
A paramilitary CRPF soldier on duty at Tarkpora village described the election as quite extraordinary. “In other states I have seen security personnel for the purpose of maintaining discipline, as a huge number of voters creates chaos and people jump out of large queues. Here, I am not able to see even one voter. I don’t know from where they come and where they go. I am having a leisurely time,” he said.