Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Election 2008

What has poll participation to do with the demand of freedom and Kashmir issue. Voting, people affirm, is for development not for politics, comments Naseer A Ganai.

In June this year one million people were on the roads demanding freedom from India. A million people marched throughout the length and breadth of Kashmir and Muslim dominated districts of Jammu despite heavy military presence. New Delhi had presumed that the freedom sentiment has died in Kashmir, and if people would be allowed to protest, no one would come out. The State Government thought on the same lines. It allowed people to protest, presuming it would be the last nail in the coffin of separatism in Kashmir.
But when people flooded the streets of Kashmir, government found itself caught off guard. And in New Delhi mainstream intellectuals supported freedom of Kashmir. Sawaminathan Aiyar broke the path, and the rest followed. Twenty years after the Government had allowed people to come on the streets, people vent their frustration, anger and desperation on the roads of Kashmir with Ragdha, Ragdha and pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan slogans. 
For the last five months government took stern measures and didn't allow people to move out or open their mouth. Those who did were booked under preventive detention. It succeeded in containing the people and even conducted, what it says, "successful elections." Now when the State has conducted successful elections, will it ever provide slight room to Kashmiris, and allow them to come out to express themselves on the streets of Kashmir again. The day state does it and allows the people shout whatever they want to, that day would make the difference.

Development and voting:
Every person, who was in the polling queue, told the media persons that he was voting for the development and employment. Even on Doordarshan Srinagar, that telecasts the long queues of the people outside the polling stations, everyday people are talking about bad roads, lack of infrastructure and above all, unemployment.
If the argument of people who cast their votes in recently concluded "70-phase" elections be taken at their face value, then it speaks volumes about 60 year rule of the Government of India in Kashmir. Sixty years after, India has not only failed to resolve the Kashmir issue but it has even utterly failed to raise the basic infrastructure in Kashmir. In his first election campaign in Budgam, the National Conference president Omar Abdullah echoed the same views when he said if Hurriyat Conference assures him that they would provide roads, electricity, unemployment, drinking water to people, he would not participate in the elections. Omar talked about de-linking of Kashmir issue from the elections. The statement of Omar speaks volumes about claims of huge investment in Kashmir. If the Government of India has invested in Kashmir, it should disclose the area where it has invested. Find out a road that has been completed. There is no drainage that is properly working. Srinagar city is sinking. The drinking water facility is not available in thousands of areas in rural areas.
The voter has given the democratic verdict on the claims of the Government of India that it has done nothing in Kashmir. It has exposed the massive development-funds myth forever.
But the question arises: does that mean Kashmiris would get any benefit following the massive participation in the electoral exercise, as the Government of India would repeat the past assertion that the voting of Kashmiris is the negation of the UN resolution on Kashmir which calls for right to self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir. In past it has been seen the areas where people have not voted, they have been denied the benefits like roads, electricity and employment opportunities. People in many areas argued that they didn't vote in 2002 and had to pay heavy price for it as the local MLA or Minister denied them an audience when they approached them. It could be argued that for last six years subtle administrative coercion was on display and the pro-India leaders reaped its benefits this time. Besides, the pro-India leaders were successful to put the point across that the development and resolution to Kashmir issue were two different issues and should not be related. It seems people bought the argument.
Besides, the State knew how to play the game, and it played it aptly. The government allowed a number of candidates to contest. It is not intriguing why so many candidates were in the fray. The number of the candidates allowed the Government enough room to play its game. It divided the people in rural areas. There were family loyalties as well. Initially, in Bandipora and Sonawari in the first phase relatives and friends and neighbors and beneficiaries came out to the vote. Others followed them. The villagers had apprehension that if "other candidate" of neighboring candidate wins, what would happen to them, and so they came out to vote for "their candidate" for the obvious reasons. It set the trend and the rest is history. Some analysts in Kashmir believe that huge number of people came out to vote hoping the new government would provide them government jobs. And if the next government, they argue, fail to provide the jobs, it could pave way for another revolution. Will it? It has to be seen.
Besides, rightly presuming that there would be less participation in the elections, New Delhi tried hard to make the election process inclusive. It succeeded, except in Srinagar. In August and September Kashmir was on the roads demanding freedom from India. The state government subdued people by launching massive crackdown. There were arrests, preventive detentions, press gag and undeclared curfews. New Delhi had a goal in Kashmir—to bring what it calls democratic process "back in Kashmir." To achieve the same, it used all undemocratic and unfair means including so far unheard "undeclared curfew" in Kashmir. In Sikh rule Jamia Mosque remained closed for some period. Now in democratic India in 2008, Jamia Mosque remained closed consecutively for eight Fridays, prompting Mirwaiz Umar to say that he would issue a Fatwa against the Government. But New Delhi remained unconcerned.

India and UN:
In Kashmir it was not the first time that the voting has taken place. It has taken place in the past and it has not changed the status of Kashmir dispute. Sir B N Rao, who represented India in Security Council in 50s, had assured Council that Kashmir Assembly's decision in regard to Accession issue would in no way hamper the policy pursued by India. "You (assembly) may express an opinion but you can take no decision on Accession." Now when New Delhi has reposed the faith on the UN and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he expects that Pakistan should follow UN resolution passed after Mumbai terror attacks. So how could New Delhi ignore the UN resolutions or promises it has made to the UN regarding Kashmir?  The UN resolutions are binding on the nations, whether passed in 50s or in 2008.
There were decisions taken by the State assembly. The autonomy resolution passed by the National Conference government was the biggest ever decision taken by the State assembly after in 1953. The Government of India didn't respond to the political decision of "elected government.' It disdainfully rejected it. Thus conveying in clear terms what the Assembly stands for. So those who argue that the people have cast vote for the development have some weight in their argument. New Delhi would be committing another blunder if it starts parroting elections process as end of Kashmir issue as advocated by Praveen Swami. Swami in his article in the Hindu (December 23) first justified the coercion of Army in 1996 elections and 2002 elections, saying it was in response to call of militants, and then describes the elections as biggest triumph and asks New Delhi to engage "multiple voices it will contain, rather than reach out once more to secessionist leadership that has been humiliated by the people it claims to represent."
But he forgets that in Kashmir neither the PDP nor the National Conference, not even the Congress had sought vote on pro-India agenda. PDP sought the vote for development, and on Muslim agenda. It is the first party in Kashmir which has accused of being minority (read Hindu) communalism in Kashmir and talked about rights of majority (read Muslims). The Congress despite being a National Party didn't dare to seek vote for India. It sought vote for development.  So no one sought vote here for India, or accession with India. No one shouted slogans in favour of India. So drawing conclusion it was pro-India vote and that New Delhi should not talk to pro-freedom leadership amounts to ignoring the ground reality.
In Pulwama district there was fair voting and people did vote despite the killing of Kashmir University student in Koil in anti-election protest. But some days later, when security forces killed a Hizb militant Rais Kachroo, thousands of people came out to participate in his Nemazi Jenza (last rites). They didn't care they had voted the other day. The distinction between the voting and resolution of Kashmir dispute has to be made to find the solution of Kashmir issue. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly should in no way come in between.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sajjad accepts setback, not defeat


Naseer A Ganai 

Srinagar, Dec 26: Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Gani Lone today described the recent polling held “under Indian gun” as “setback to pro-freedom leaders” but warned that it should not be construed as defeat of freedom struggle and people of Kashmir shouldn’t be targeted for participating in the poll process. 

 “We are not preaching defeatism here; we are speaking from a place of confidence. We are a capable nation and we certainly rise above our present shortfalls. If there is a setback we will have to reverse the setback and do what it takes to reverse the setback,” Sajjad said addressing media persons at his residence here. 
 Sajjad launched scathing attack on the leaders and the intellectuals who argue that people in Kashmir are unpredictable and said people of Kashmir have rendered exemplary sacrifices and have followed the programs of the resistance leadership for last 20 years. “They (people) have gone above and beyond in every respect. If a significant number of people have dissented in this case-it highlights the need for introspection. Rather than accusing people we need to sit together and examine what are the causes of dissent,” he said.
 Citing massive militarization, crackdowns, and arrests Sajjad said election turnout figures need to be evaluated in the context of an uneven playfield. Democracy, he said, was a holistic concept and not a partial concept. He said the government has shown a selective acceptance of democracy. 
 “The political leaders pursuing the boycott call were jailed or put under house arrest, undeclared curfew, thwarting peaceful marches and the armed siege of Kashmir has eroded the credibility of the voting percentage,” he said.
 He said the poll process achieved through these means should not be construed as defeat of freedom struggle in Kashmir. “The separatists and separatism are two different concepts. And the separatism from India as an ideology runs deep in every Kashmir and no poll process could defeat it,” he said. He said in this poll process the militant gun stayed way but the “Indian gun” remained predominant in the process that is being portrayed as “political battle.” 
 He said leaders and intellectuals who try to divide the indivisible identity of the Kashmiri nation were playing Indian game-plan. “Some people through their writings and speeches are trying to strike at the cohesive and indivisible identity of the Kashmiri nation by insinuating that villagers or people of a particular community voted.” He said those who voted or boycotted were Kashmiri. He said no one should fall into trap as nothing would please the Indian state more than identifying a Kashmiri as a “rural” Kashmiri or an “urban’ Kashmiri or a “pahari” Kashmiri or a ‘Gujjar” Kashmiri or Shia or Sunni. He called for an immediate end to such “divisive designs” and said no leader or writer or an intellectual is above people.
 He cautioned New Delhi for marketing the poll process here as “vote for India.” “The fair turnout of people can by no means be twisted into such a claim. If people have voted, they have voted for their day today problems. In our opinion, a large section of people have expressed a desire to de-link resolution from the day to day problems that they face,” he said. 
 However, he called for new strategy and said the conflict has dragged for a longer time than was initially thought. “We will have to admit that in running a marathon we scripted a strategy for repeated sprints and the unique requirements of a longer struggle were not factored in. This was a major lapse,” he added. 
 For 20 years, he said, the separatist leadership has been coasting, drifting or just reacting. “A time comes in our personal, professional lives when we look into the mirror and introspect and analyze,” he added. 
 He asked separatists leaders to introspect and said they should lead, follow or get out. The PC, he said, would come up with concept paper for fellow leaders and try to build consensus around it. He said time has come when the leadership has to decide to accept the realities as they exist. Sajjad said if separatists re-strategize they could turn tables around even after six months. 
 The PC chairman reiterated that he stands by the principle of dissent embodied in the boycott call. “We do not see the turn out as defeat. It can be best described as a setback,” he said adding that all great victories are born in learning the lessons from the set-backs. He however said it would be fatal if “we pretend as if nothing has happened.” He said the people have voted and they voted at the time when the world was looking at Kashmir. 
 “To put it plainly people have voted at a wrong time,” he said. He urged for getting rid of strategic contradictions and illogical paths and said they only create fatigue rather than build strength within the nation. “People power is all we have and all we need.” It advocated rethinking over frequent strike calls and said they hit more at Kashmiris than anyone else. He said the boycott calls help Indian state more and cripple Kashmir economy. He called for end to stigmatizing people and individuals in Kashmir. He said the resistance shouldn’t be confined to stone pelting. He called for building resistance institutions for continuing non-violent and peaceful struggle.

Sunday, December 14, 2008



Koil (Pulwama), Dec 13: Today when people in two districts of Pulwama and Shopian were voting, police and CRPF men reportedly avenged anti-election protests by people in this small hamlet, killing a B.A Ist year student. Two other youth received bullet injuries.

 Muzaffar Mushtaq son of Mushtaq Ahmad Ganai, Muhammad Ayub Kumar son of Ghulam Muhammad Kumar and Zeeshan Ali son of Ali Muhammad received bullets when troopers and police opened fire to disperse the villagers who had assembled near Jamia Masjid here. 
 The injured youth were rushed to the district hospital where from they were shifted to the SMHS hospital in Srinagar, some 60 kms from Pulwama. Doctors in SMHS declared Muzaffar, 21, brought dead. Zeeshan was operated upon and a part of his ruptured intestine was removed. However doctors termed his and Kumar’s conditions as stable. Residents termed the firing as unprovoked and targeted.

 Panic had gripped the Koil village since early morning after SOG personnel and CRPF troopers entered the houses, allegedly threatening people to vote. The villagers including women had assembled on the roads.
 Rashid Ahmad, a local said they heard four to five gunshots at 8 am and soon after the SOG personnel and CRPF troopers barged into some houses asking people to come out to vote. “It was peaceful till they entered into our houses,” Rashid said. 
 He said the extreme provocation prompted them to assemble on road near the Masjid. 
 “Soon after a group of SOG personnel, policemen and CRPF troopers reached on the spot and resorted to baton charging,” Rashid, 60, said.
 They fired hundreds of bullets and several tear gas canisters in air to disperse the villagers, another local Muzaffar Hussain said. “But we stayed united fearing if we will return to our houses, the troopers will thrash us,” Muzaffar said.
 He said the troopers and SOG personnel provoked them to pelt stones. “From a group of CRPF personnel, an aged trooper first started pelting stones forcing our youth to retaliate,” Muzaffar said.
 The stone pelting had continued for 20 minutes. “As more people joined the protests another contingent of troopers joined by the SOG personnel reached the spot at around 11 am. They started thrashing everybody including women. Failing to disperse us, they entered our houses and damaged the window panes and doors and scattered house-hold items,” Ghulam Qadir said. The troopers had broken the window panes and a door of his house. “They even beat my two daughters,” said Qadir’s wife, Haja Begum amid sobs.
 He said the firing continued till 11:30 am. “The troopers and the SOG fired thousands of bullets in air. Failing to disperse us and after running short of ammunition, they left the spot and protestors were pacified,” Qadir said.
 Shakeel Ahmad said at around 12 pm another contingent of CRPF and police rushed to the spot. He said the villagers were peacefully sitting on the roadsides and shop vends. “But the CRPF and SOG personnel party opened fire on a group of people without any provocation injuring three youth,” he said.
 Shakeel added the ‘unprovoked’ angered the villagers who engaged the troopers and SOG personnel in stone pelting. “They fired more bullets in air and resorted to baton charg injuring at least 20 more persons.” 
 At 1 pm the whole village had came out on the roads and anger was visible on every face. Men and youth were waiting for the body of Muzaffar to bury it. Inside the house of slain Muzaffar, hundreds of wailing women had gathered. They were trying to console the family members. But tears were trickling down from every face. 
 Barely 50 meters away from the house a grave was being prepared for Muzaffar in the martyrs graveyard. “Muzaffar is the 13th martyr of the village,” said Shabir Ahmad. His friend added that Muzaffar had secured distinction in the 10th and 12th class.

 The photojournalists were again at the receiving end of the police and CRPF troopers today. When the news about the Koil incident spread in Pulwama, the photojournalists and reporters of various international, national and local media organizations rushed towards the spot. The security agencies stopped them and didn’t allow them to carry on with their professional work. They even tried to thrash them. But this didn’t stop the journalists and without caring for consequences covered the incident. Many photo journalists were later thrashed by the troopers.  
 The government on Friday evening had warned photojournalists not to rush to cover elections in towns before afternoon. The photojournalists refused to buckle down under pressure and rushed to various spots to do their professional duties.

 The divisional commissioner Kashmir, Masood Samoon, in the evening said the government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the killing of a person in Koil Pulwama. “The deputy commissioner Pulwama has been appointed as the inquiry officer. He has been asked to give a factual report within 15 days,” he told reporters in a press conference in Srinagar

Friday, December 5, 2008

Of Budget and Batamaloo bus-stand

Naseer A Ganai
I am not an economist. I would never try to explain others nuances of the Budget, its flaws and benefits. But sheer figures surprise me. Everywhere in Budget there are crores and crores of rupees only. Lakhs of jobs for unemployed, growth in every sector, and development everywhere. In budget every man has a house, every child is in school and every doctor attends his patient. In five years the coalition government (of course on papers) established 40 colleges.  If establishing of colleges continues with this pace, after 10 years every colony and every village will have its own college. There will be an end school system.  Because our education system would really go top down. It would start from college.
In budget every Mohalla has a bus and all buses have proper terminals, which are neat and clean unlike filthy Batamaloo bus-stand. Budget is really a wonderful world of statistics and figures.
For last five years whenever ‘zero deficit’ budget was presented, I thought it would change the destiny of Batamaloo bus-terminal. But five years down the line, the terminal changed from bad to worse. Figures in the budget went up and up and trenches in the Batamaloo bus-terminal went down and down. Upward growth in the budget proved to be downward slump for the Batamaloo bus-stand. And Sensex of the Batmaloo bus-stand always crushed.
Who is responsible for the crash of Batamaloo Sensex exchange. Let us examine it. The FORMER Finance Minister Tariq Hamid Qarra in his last budget speech (he is only two budget old) said the Coalition Government has changed not only the political discourse in the state but also its economic destiny.”
Coalition government, he said, has been able to add about Rs 1,000 every year for the last five years to the pocket of an average person in J&K. And then added emotionally that it means a lot more to him than his cutting debt intensity or running a high overdraft. Indeed a smart political statement. For last five years the successive Finance Minister’s have failed to respond to an argument of the leader of the opposition Abdul Rahim Rather who says if the Budget is zero-deficit then why overdraft from Jammu and Kashmir Bank is increasing every year. Rather Sahib here is political answer of your purely economic question.
In 2007  FM also gave a wonderful budget speech commencing it with name of God. I thought now there would be change and Batamaloo bus-stand would represent that changing and Khushal Kashmir.
But nothing Changed. Peoples Democratic Party’s slogan of peace with dignity neither brought peace in the bus-stand nor dignity to thousands of passengers and commuters whowalk into the Bus stand. On Salfia College road there is huge bunker and it has made the two-way road a one way. But it was there before the peace with dignity slogan. PDP replaced slogan and coined demilitarization and Azad came up with Khushal Kashmir but bunker remained on the road.
The road approaching the Adda (bus-stand) was never repaired, and it continues to be hell for vehicles and commuters. In winter and rainy seasons it is worst place with mud and muddy water everywhere. Those who pass through it in day (rough estimate is some 50000 people) have now developed a sort of love with this mud of Batamaloo bus-stand. I have seen number of commuters who pass through this Ada cleaning their heads with handkerchief. I was always wondering what kind of ritual it is. Then one day a fellow handed me his handkerchief and asked me to clean his head. It had accumulated some mud.

In summer it is so dusty that at times nothing is visible. Even not one’s own nostrils.
If Qarra says coalition government has changed political discourse, it has changed. He is absolutely right on this account. Like thousands of other commuters who pass thorough Batamloo bustand, I everyday in the morning and evening wonder for fate of those who pass through this Ada and wonder what is the fate the vehicles. Their drivers and their owners, and their conductors. It goes on. I also think of health of shopkeepers and health of motels located inside the Ada. And then at my workplace I discuss it with my colleagues. And now I see that instead of politics they discuss Batamaloo Ada. Really coalition has changed the political discourse. Five years back we were discussing politics, freedom, India, Pakistan, Middle East crises, China and its influence and five years down the line we are consumed by discourse of Batamaloo Busstand and what led its decline and fall. 24*7 it goes on. The credit should go to the coalition government.
Any one who has see picture of Guantanamo Bay on TV, and wants to see how it really looks like should once in his lifetime visit Batamaloo bus-stand. Here at every entry point are security personnel with long sticks and rifles. Barbed wire at every entry and exit points. Inside the Ada there are marked spaces, which are controlled by force personnel only. The drivers when enter the Ada are petrified where to stop and where not to. He has to follow unwritten instruction of sentry.
I have sort of love-hate relationship with Ada. Just like I have for budget. I don’t understand it but I have to read it. The Batamaloo Ada I don’t want to visit but I have to. The bus I board lands in the Ada. And its’ landing is backbreaking. Soon the bus reaches near the bus-stand; it develops ‘convulsions.’ The road has holes, trenches, ditches and they don’t only ‘break’ the vehicle but it also breaks the back of all those who are on board. And when the vehicle reaches near the bustand, its driver has dilemma, whether to stop outside or inside. He has many questions and angry passengers to face. Just like Finance Minister has to face opposition who describes his budget as anti-people. In the same manner passengers accuse driver of being cunning, anti people if he stops outside and those who intend to board down outside level him same accusation if he stops the vehicle inside bus terminal. The passengers do not know about the unwritten instruction to the driver by force personnel.
In this budget I remember the Finance Minister saying that seeds of our electoral success have been sown in our six budgets and those are now flowering across the state in the form of developmental work done on ground. Of course, needless to add, that this would not have been possible without the vision of Jenab Mufti Muhammed Sayeed and the dynamism of Jenab Ghulam Nabi Azad, he had added.
His predecessor too had stated many times about dynamism of the Azad Sahib and vision of Mufti Sahib. I was presuming that this would lead to joint statement. That would be called a visionary and dynamic statement and the statement would have some impact on ground zero at Batamaloo bus stand. The development is flowering across the State, says Qarra. But one wonders why it has not reached to Batamaloo bus-stand.

The former Finance Minister once talked about Kashmir having its own currency. Great idea. Let us have Reserve Bank of Kashmir. But where it should be constructed? At Batamaloo Ada, says my colleague.

Monday, December 1, 2008

From martyrs graveyards to polling booths

Contradictions in Kashmir

Naseer A Ganai

Handwara, Nov 30: Doodhipora has seen death closely. Everyone knows who has been killed here, by whom and when. Even a school boy who sought a lift in our vehicle told us about four cricket playing boys killed by Army in 2006.

The boy continued his talk. His name was Bilal and he was from neighboring village. He had cast his vote though under age. But he was unconcerned about it. In Handwara district Doodhipora has worst roads, he said. It seems Bilal had contempt for the village, some 80 kms from winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. Handwara was once hotbed of anti-India insurgency which erupted in 1987 in Kashmir. 

Near a closed village shop was sitting an aged man. Bilal pointed towards him and said, “His son was brave young man. He tried to save two boys when he was fired at by troops but got killed along with the two boys,” Bilal said. So we decided to board down and talk to the aged person. 

Ghulam Rasool Wani, he identified himself after responding to our greetings. He said he has decided to cast his vote this time. “I am just looking for another person who would accompany me to the polling booth,” Rasool said.

In 2002 Wani stayed away from the voting. He was not alone. Whole village had decided not to vote. “We were angry. The memories of our children were afresh in our minds and there was no let up in atrocities,” Rasool said.

Rasool said he has lost his two sons, elder one in 2002 and younger in 2006.  Meanwhile, villagers including women gathered around us and joined the talk. On seeing Rasool talking about his two sons they too started talking about killings in the village. They said nearly 28 persons were killed in the village.

“Our Ghulam Hassan had just passed the TDC in 2006. He was playing cricket when troops fired at them. He had two boys in his lap whom he was trying to save from the firing of soldiers. They killed them all,” said Farida, daughter in law of Rasool.

Farida said Amir, 9 and Shakir, 5 and Abdul Samad, and “our Ghulam Hassan” were killed in the firing.

Farida said Hassan’s brother Manzoor Ahmad Bhat too had passed the TDC examination when he was killed. “He was militant and he died in encounter in 2002,” said Jana, an aged woman.

Jana had cast her vote. “I too have lost my son Shafia,” she said. Others corrected her and said Shafia was Muhammad Shafi Malik who died in an encounter with troops in Kralpora. “It was in 1997,” the mother says. She was particular about the date.

Mala, 70 year old joined the conversation. “My son Muhammad Maqbool was killed by militants,” she said.

“Her husband was killed by army,” a village boy added. An aged person who was walking on road joined us. Farida introduced her to us as father of Shakir who died in Army firing on children.

Ghulam Rasool Wani said he cast his vote. Looking at the grim audience, he felt apologetic and explained. “Everyone from the village went to cast the vote so did I,” he said, and others laughed. “They are writing about people who were killed in the village,” Farida told Rasool innocently. And in seconds the villagers started naming the parents of the children killed. Nazir Ahmad Mir son of Qadir, Rehman Kaka of Gulun, Ghulam Hassan Mir, Abdul Rashid, Zareefa’s son Rehman Bhat and it went on.

The death-talk was too overburdening.

Perhaps Ghulam Rasool Wani realized it. “Come to our village some day we will talk in detail. You city people will not realize our agony. Who listens to us when tragedies befall on us,” he said, adding, he would vote. For what, we asked. “For this road, see its condition,” he said.

Rasool moved towards the polling booth and we towards another village Chottipora. 

Chottipora is two kms from Handwara town.

On August 25 this year, a young woman of this village was brutally killed by troopers here. The villagers chose this day to pay tributes to their daughter, by staying away from voting. Instead of the polling booth, locals streamed to Fahmida’s house. Her house was no less than a shrine. Her nine months-old kid nothing short of a relic.

 The villagers had assembled in the house of the village headman, Abdul Rehman Sheikh, Fahmida’s father. The memories of the gory incident are still fresh in their minds and they remember how the brave daughter of the village had rushed to save a youth from the troopers. And they remember troops firing bullets on Fahmida, killing her on the spot.

 The polling booth, 20 to 25 meters away from Fahmida’s house, was surrounded by a group of paramilitary troops of CRPF and policemen who had laid concertina wires around the booth.

“She was a brave daughter of the village. After hearing that army is beating a village boy outside her house, she rushed out to save him and a trooper shot her in the head. She died on the spot,” said a villager. The incident happened when the army had cordoned off the village to prevent Lal Chowk march called by the pro-freedom Coordination Committee. Fahmida had heard the cries of Firdous Ahmad Sheikh who was beaten by troops near the village mosque where he had gone to offer Azan.

 “She couldn’t bear Firdous’s cries and rushed towards the spot. But the trooper shot her in the head,” aged Abdul Rehman Sheikh told reporters.

 Sheikh, who along with his wife Taja Begum was sitting on a ragged mat in the corridor of his house, said he had married off Fahmida in 2006. “I never knew this colossal tragedy would befall me,” he said.

 Pointing towards Musa Sheikh, nine-month old son of Fahmida, Sheikh said his cries in the evening torture them. “Since her death mourning has never stopped in our house,” Sheikh said and with it Taja Begum started weeping. Musa was in her lap.

 Since Sunday morning the villagers had started assembling in the house to express solidarity with the family. In the polling booth, at 12:30 p.m only 6 votes had been cast out of 577. The polling agents said even their family members wouldn’t turn up to vote. “Her killing has changed everything in the village. I think the villagers wouldn’t turn up,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, the polling agent of Congress. 

Near the village tube-well, women said that they have not cast the vote and they will not. “There have been so many killings in this village. But her death was most terrible and it has shocked us,” women said.

 The village graveyard is testimony of what the women said. There are five graves. Two of militants, two of children who died in Wullar tragedy, and Fahmida’s grave. In the Wullar boat tragedy. 24 kids of a Handwara school who were on picnic in Bandipora died when their boat capsized in the lake in the summer of 2006. The inquiry officer Tariq Ahmad Naqashbandi had indicted Navy in the tragedy and the Government had accepted the inquiry report.

 The youth here said they have rejected the pro-India politicians and would continue to reject them. An aged woman, who was on her way to Sheikh’s house, said, “My grandson Hilal Ahmad Wani died in Wullar. Another died in Tangdhar. And you are asking me why I am not casting the vote?”

On Monday, a journalist friend informed me that at 4 p.m in Chottipora village there was long queue outside the booth and 

at 3 p.m 60 people had cast their votes.