Hajin: Bleak, misty scenes at four polling booths, civilians and soldiers both miserable
Bandipora: The “volatile” region under Hajin panchayat block saw 17 percent polling in Bandipora district on Saturday.
The majority of the Sarpanch and Panch segments remained vacant in this block. Polling was held for only two Sarpanch Halqas and two Panch Segments at four polling booths, which were outside the town outskirts.
As dense fog hovered over the Wular Lake in Bandipora, the peripheral village, Saderkoot, too remained covered in white mist. Old and young both had gathered in a small group at the entry point to the village near the highway. These men were heavily clothed with only the eyes visible of most of them.
The polling booth on the other side of the road, slightly uphill, had army and police personnel standing guard inside and all around. People here seemed not interested in voting and the soldiers in olive greens had a leisurely retreat in which they tried to beat the bone-chilling cold.
Out of 241 registered voters, only five votes were cast here.
The scene inside the polling booth itself told a cold story. In the corner of the room, where the ballot was, the staff, both men and women, clad in pherans had gathered around the steel fireplace, lit up, while the cold breeze brought the extra chill of Wular with it.
Outside, the group of paramilitary forces had gathered around a fire made from dried shrubbery and heaps of leaves. Adjacent to them, in a ruined school building, soldiers had lit up some wood and were seated around it. The dense smoke forced its way out through ravaged brick walls.
“It’s so cold here. You won’t be feeling it as much as we do?” said a CRPF man seated near the fireplace. “It has been only three months since we are here. The cold is really bone-chilling, and it’s getting colder by the day. Though at nights we feel comfortable, the days get really harsh.”
A Delhi-based CRPF man stood near the entry point, away from the warmth of the fire, his helmet in front of him and his rifle in his hand. He identified himself with his surname, Singh. “The weight of the bulletproof keeps me warm. It is almost 25-30 kilograms. I never wore one before; in Delhi, where I am originally posted, it is never required,” he said.
Singh said he wants to return to Delhi soon. “Elections are in the last phase now, I am eager to return to Delhi at the soonest. I am here since the Amarnath pilgrimage began,” he rued
A few kilometres from here, near Chambazpora village, to the right of the main road, downhill, a polling booth in the school faced a steady stream, unfenced. Here, voters, mostly women, were coming in ones and twos to cast their vote. Two women are contesting for Sarpanch here.
The chill in the air kept both voters and paramilitary forces avoid facing the stream that flowed outside.
A voter, who gave his name as Abdul, said that he was “too poor” to vote. “I am old, around 50, and I am ill. I have three little daughters to take care of. I haven’t received any government benefits for labourers or for the poor. This, and other reasons like development of the village, is why I voted.”
A woman voter, wearing a purple scarf and white pheran, came out from the polling booth rubbing her stained thumb on the ground, and shouting, “Will we now get the Ration Card after casting the vote?”
This polling booth saw the highest number of votes polled: 282 out of 1,162.
In total, 22 Sarpanch halqas that make up Hajin block saw 14 remaining vacant, and 6 won uncontested. Only in two was a contest held.
Out of total 196 Panch wards, 166 remained vacant, 28 were won unopposed, and only two were contested.