Citing safety concerns, many refuse to comply
BUDGAM: In a first of its kind in the Kashmir valley, women government employees have been assigned poll duties and deployed as presiding officers (POs) in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
Fears for their safety and apprehensions of being made scapegoats should the elections not proceed smoothly have led many of the employees to categorically refuse to pay any heed to the government order.
Around 450 female employees, most of whom are teachers, have been assigned poll duties in the upcoming parliamentary elections that are to begin from April 11.
However, a list has been drawn up naming the deputed female employees, leading those on the list to raise concerns over their security and to term it a “humanitarian issue”.
“The indelible memories of 2017 parliamentary elections are still fresh in our minds, so how can we stay away from home for such a prolonged time in the given volatile situation during the forthcoming elections?” they asked, adding, “It isn’t just difficult for us, it is literally impossible.”
Meanwhile, the female employees said that it is the first time in Jammu and Kashmir that women employees have been asked to perform PO duties.
“In case any of the women agrees to perform duty as a presiding officer, she is bound to face hardships, like lack of basic facilities, accommodation and likelihood of violence during polling,” they rued.
They have sought the intervention of the Chief Electoral Officer and the District Election Officer into the matter.
While talking to Additional Chief Electoral Officer (Kashmir province), Rakesh Kumar Srangal, he agreed that this is the first instance when female employees have been asked to appear as POs.
“Though there is no scope of female employees being deployed as POs, however there is not even clear guidelines from the Election Commission of India (ECI) on whether they can be deployed as presiding officers or not,” Rakesh added.
While framing the list of employees, he said, preference must be given to men, keeping in consideration their security and other reasons.
“In other states of India, it is going on successfully and people are appreciating this model of the ECI. However, the situation here in Kashmir is sensitive and very different from other states,” he said.
Moreover, women polling stations have been established across the valley this time, which might be a reason for the women employees deployment as POs, he said.
He added, “Still, it is on a trial basis, and there is no force on them as of now. We will look at it again, and if needed they will be exempted from their duties.”