In the interiors of Dal, an election scene most dangerous: a survivor’s account

In the interiors of Dal, an election scene most dangerous: a survivor’s account

SRINAGAR: I was nearly lynched today at the Mir Behri polling station in Hazratbal area by a group of men who were bullying the election staff into letting in voters who had no ID cards or names on the voters’ list. The polling staff had already crumbled under their pressure while the government forces standing guard were watching as mere spectators.
At about 3 PM on Thursday, I along with my journalist friend were searching for stories at the city’s polling stations. After witnessing nearly zero voting at many polling stations in Hazratbal area, we decided to visit the interiors of Dal, which mostly see brisk voting. Our guess turned out true. Here 448 votes had been cast out of 645 total voters and there were still three hours left for the voting time to end. We wanted to understand why this area votes the way it does when nearby areas like Shahabad had recorded just two votes and Hasanabad had 38 votes cast out of 732 by the same time. There was similar low voting percentage at Vishwa Bharti College polling station where the surroundings wore a deserted look.
But here at Mir Behri, there were chaotic scenes. Polling agents and voters were arguing with presiding officers. We witnessed an apparently minor girl being allowed to vote despite the polling staff objecting to her age. A few persons calling themselves as polling agents were seen harassing polling officials and threatening them with violence. A polling agent accompanied voters to the EVM machine several times despite frequent objections by the polling officials. Another polling agent was seen arguing with the polling official to allow him to vote in place for an aged relative who he said could not walk.
Several voters when asked to produce a voter card argued with the presiding officer, saying they were being told “unheard of rules”, which they have never followed.
“Nobody has ever asked us to show identity card when we had come to vote. Who are you, then? We will set this polling station on fire if you don’t allow us to vote. We don’t care about anything,” said an enraged person to a member of the polling staff. This was witnessed by policemen who did nothing. A paramilitary CRPF man standing guard objected to the voter, who shouted back. A polling agent stepped in and pacified the CRPF man. The voter still cast his vote.
Another person entered the buzzing polling station where it was difficult to distinguish between a voter, polling agent, and polling staff. I was holding a phone in my hand and witnessing the scene unfolding before my eyes. The person jumped close to me and snatched my phone.
“You are shooting a video. We won’t let you go,” he shouted.
Within moments, scores of men pounced on me, then landed several blows on my body. I lost my glasses. The agitated men also snatched my government-issued accredited Press Card. The policemen politely asked the men to let me go, but the men paid no heed. In between the blows, I was saved from possible lynching by a group of CRPF personnel. During this time I could think of only one thing: how to leave safely. I pleaded before the CRPF men to escort me out, but a polling agent, who was among the men who has hit me, assured that there would be no more beating.
For the next thirty minutes I was made to show the photos gallery of my phone to ensure that that there was no video of what the man had objected to. Then I was escorted by a policeman to a safer place.
“Please leave from here as soon as possible. They are mad. You will be hurt if they attack you, and there will be no one to help,” said the visibly frightened policeman.
I was out safely, and miraculously unhurt, having survived the most horrifying incident of my life while reporting. I was caught in a dilemma, whether to report the incident or keep my silence. I chose the former. I wrote to Chief Election Officer Shailendra Kumar and DC Srinagar Shahid Chowdhry. I don’t know what happened later, but I learnt the lesson of my life: how vulnerable we are in Kashmir.