It’s ‘mission change’ for Kashmiri youth

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:23 pm IST

Published - December 02, 2014 09:08 am IST - KULGAM/KUPWARA:

The streets and markets in Handwara town wore a deserted look on Tuesday, but polling booths were abuzz with voters queuing up to cast the vote. Tea and kehwa were served inside the booths as children tagged along with parents.

Similar to the first phase of polling, youth came out on larges numbers to vote, a feature that was missing in elections for the past two decades. This time youngsters in Kupwara and Handwara came with a mission, to vote for “change”.

“Earlier, leaders made empty promises. They promised government jobs and other things. This time, we are voting for Sajjad Lone and we are sure he will bring change. He will bring factories and industries here and he will completely change this place,” said Khalid Ahmad Bhat, a 21-year-old voter from Handwara.

Mr. Bhat’s father was given a job in the State Fisheries department by Sajjad Lone’s father, the late Abdul Ghani Lone, who founded the People’s Conference Party (PCP). The young tractor driver believes that Mr. Lone will also help him find better employment.

Supporters of National Conference candidate Choudhary Ramzan were equally confident of their candidate’s victory. Mr. Ramzan has won from the constituency four times.

A few km away in Langate constituency, hundreds of people voted for the maverick leader and sitting MLA, Engineer Abdul Rasheed. Rasheed, a former party worker with Mr. Lone’s People's Conference, started his own party called the Awami Itihaad Party (AIP) during the 2008 Assembly elections. Posters of Mr. Rasheed were the only ones that were visible in the area.

“He made our life better from the oppression of the Army and from the forced labour in Army camps that we endured for years. That is why we are voting for him, because he stands up for us. We don’t need development, we need protection from the Army,” Mudasir Ahmad, a supporter of Mr. Rasheed, told The Hindu .

While there was brisk voting, a group of 40 women raised black flags and anti-India slogans at the entrance to the polling booth in Kunan village in Kupwara. The women accused Army soldiers of a mass rape during a crackdown in 1990. “After we were raped, each of us had to undergo surgeries and we live with a deeper wound that will never heal and as long as we live, we will not be silent even though we know that we will never get any justice within the Indian system,” one of the protesting women said.

The protests, however, didn’t deter voters from exercising their franchise. By 2.25 pm, 452 of the 890 votes had been cast while the women kept protesting. The scene, in a way, was a larger picture of these elections. Voters ignored their past wounds with a hope for change.

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