People with marked index fingers humiliated

“Death would be better than the torture we were subjected to,” Nazir Ahmad Ganai (25) says, speaking to The Hindu of the thrashing he and others received in Sopore on Thursday from militants after voting in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

Over 62 percent of the 3.93 lakh voters in Kupwara, on the Indo-Pakistan border participated in the brisk polling on Wednesday.

The record turnout in defiance of the militant diktat and the separatists’ boycott call is in sharp contrast to the virtually zero polling in Sopore, where most of the Electronic Voting Machines returned blank and not more than one percent of the voters turned up at the polling stations.

“Now, we will see how these Kupwara traitors will pass through Sopore,” a 22-year-old Muslim Pir from Sopore warned on his Facebook wall.

With no semblance of government control the following day, crowds of “miscreants” struck on the Srinagar-Sopore-Kupwara Road.

They intercepted vehicles with a Kupwara registration, shattered windscreens and damaged vehicles. They checked photo-identity cards and index fingers of the passengers and harassed and humiliated both men and women with a marked index finger.

“It was 8.30 p.m. I was repeatedly slapped and asked why I cast a vote for India. Two of the 10 masked men, with many more open-faced youths, asked our co-passenger, a burkha-clad woman, to show them her finger. They shouted at her: ‘Were you going to marry a soldier?’ Then they showered naked abuses. Her father perspired. We heard a hooting vehicle coming in our direction. The masked duo jumped out and ran away, perhaps mistaking an ambulance for a police vehicle. It helped me drive away,” Mr Ganai told The Hindu.

Abdul Salam Lone, a schoolteacher said: “Over 2.46 lakh people voted in Kupwara with great enthusiasm. But Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah shattered our faith completely in the Indian electoral system as nobody came to our rescue [during the attack]. If they can’t protect us, why do they ask us to vote?”

“I have invested my entire earnings in this taxi. I have yet to repay an outstanding loan of Rs. 84,000. I earn around Rs.10,000 a month to feed my family of three children, wife and mother. It took me Rs.12,400 to replace the windscreens,” said Nazir Ahmad Lone.

Mohammad Aslam Khan, the head of a Tata Sumo taxi stand here, claimed that 40 vehicles were severely damaged and hundreds of voters thrashed.

“It is a state of total helplessness. Nobody from Kupwara district is safe in Sopore and Baramulla. We have shut down all services. If the attacks are repeated tomorrow, we will close down all the 200-odd shops of the Sopore traders here,” he warned.

Amid reports that a serious reaction was brewing in Kupwara and Handwara, senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani addressed a Baramulla gathering by telephone and made an appeal to them to stop reprisals on voters.

A police handout said five FIRs had been lodged.

“The miscreants involved in these acts of violence have been identified and special teams have been formed to arrest these culprits and a number of miscreants involved in these incidents have been arrested,” it said.