TRAVELING ON AN ELECTION DAY!
By: BILAL AHMAD NAIK
It was Sunday evening. KP road was packed with vehicles and pedestrians and Anantnag looked bright and amusing. But the three-way junction near Degree College Anantnag, that marks the end of the town and is just two kilometers away from the first village of Kulgam district, presented a crowded yet gloomy look.
In the second leg of LS elections for Anantnag Parliamentary constituency, the voters of four assembly constituencies of Kulgam district were to exercise their franchise the next day. I was on way to chimer (Noor Abad), my home village. At around 7:30 pm, I reached this intersection with a preconceived idea of staying at a hotel near the college but the hustle and bustle at the other end of the road motivated me to change my mind as i thought of going home.
Further, it would have been impossible for me to leave for Kulgam the next day as it was scheduled to be Election Day. Getting closer, I could see some persons scattered yet jostling each other when they ran to and fro to check whether any vehicle would take them to their home town. I have been through such situations at this place many times before as anything untoward happening anywhere in the valley can create mayhem here.
Vehicles came and did not stop routinely. When any of the vehicles stopped- all those who were waiting there would hang to its windows enquiring about the route. Nearly 20 minutes later I, alongwith 6 more people, booked a cab to Kulgam. Surprisingly he followed the main route (Qaimoh), very dangerous in such conditions.
There were two kinds of villages on our way- those garrisoned by armed forces symbolizing the presence of polling booth and those where roads were filled with masked youth, to resist any attempt by the security agencies to establish polling booth, The driver of the cab explained. Pertinent to mention here that many polling booths had been clubbed together, probably for security reasons, here and villages were supposed to vote at joint polling stations.
We witnessed many scenes on this 17 km stretch but what happened at Khudwani was a bit horrifying when, suddenly, a dozen masked boys with sticks and stones stepped out of the streets pointing towards our vehicle. The driver chose to accelerate instead of stopping as the boys showered stones randomly, though missing the target. Lifting our heads after a few minutes and finding each other safe and sound brought back the smile on our faces. ‘This happens. It’s kind of normal business ‘ the driver remarked and all of us nodded in affirmation.
The best thing was that I didn’t see signs of fear on anybody’s face. People of this area have become habitual to such nuisances and so there was no reason to feel scared. Living in such circumstances, it’s kind of easy to anticipate the possible eventualities.
Eventually at around 8:30 we reached Kulgam. It seemed like a military garrison, armed forces outnumbering the civilians manned the streets. Meanwhile I got the bad news. A friend who was driving from my home village to ferry me home from Kulgam had to return for circumstances did not allow him to proceed. As luck would have it, a friend from Rambhama some 15 kilometers from my village called me and told me that he will drive me from kulgam to his home. But the main hurdle was the military camp on the other side of Kulgam. They don’t usually allow vehicles to cross the road beyond 8 pm. I had to manage to cross the camp on my own. Then someone in a Maruti car spotted me there and he was proceeding to chawalgam, a village on the other side of the camp. He somehow managed to motivate the armed personal guarding the camp to allow us to cross the road. It was not normal beyond there but nothing untoward happened and we reached Rambhama peacefully at around 9 pm. With no polling booth, no security personnel, some shops still open, the village appeared totally ‘out of the world’.