In Jammu And Kashmir's Pulwama, A Huge Challenge To Get People To Vote

Omar Abdullah raised issue of human rights violations and urges people that it's only the power of their vote which can highlight their problems before parliament.

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Omar Abdullah is heard asking supporters to vote on May 6 only if they find situation conducive to vote.


Pulwama: 

It's an unusual election meeting in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama, yet to completely recover from the effects of February's terror attack that left 40 paramilitary soldiers dead. Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister, is heard asking supporters to vote on May 6 only if they find situation conducive to vote.

Mr Abdullah's party National Conference is trying to fill the vacuum in the erstwhile People's Democratic Party (PDP) bastion where its chief and his rival Mehbooba Mufti, who is running for the ongoing national elections, could not hold even a single rally because of fear and public anger.

Mr Abdullah raised issue of human rights violations and urges people that it's only the power of their vote which can highlight their problems before parliament.

"We want your voice should be raised in parliament where we can seek answers for this oppression. Nocturnal crackdowns, arrests, detention of youth under PSA (Public Safety Act), torture of youth in custody," said Omar Abdullah.

It's difficult to say if his message is getting through. Voters say it's precisely the issue of human rights violations and alleged atrocities which will force them to boycott polls.

At Muran village, Mohammad Ismael Sheikh, a retired government employee says he will not vote because he was rounded up by police during a nocturnal raid on Monday.

"If they don't beat people, if they don't harass them, raid their homes... I feel everyone will vote, there would be no problem," said Mohammad Ismael Sheikh.

Pulwama is part of Anantnag parliament constituency where elections are being held in three phases. In the last two phases in Anantnag and Kulgam districts, the voter turnout was a dismal 12 per cent.

In last two days, more than 20 young men have been picked up from Muran village. Police say those detained are potential stone-throwers who can disrupt polling. But locals allege that even old people have not been spared.

Sixty-five-year-old Sheikh said he was picked up by police because they could not find his son.

The villagers say the actions by police and security forces have deeply alienated the people. Even homes are being targeted and windowpanes damaged, they complain.

In the wake of the crackdown, many are on the run to avoid arrests.

Abdul Salam, a person with a disabled leg, said police are also looking for him on allegations of stone-throwing. 

The 55-year-old said he has dealt a deformity in his left leg for the last 30 years. "They are rounding up everyone without any proof. I can neither run nor can I walk normally. How can I throw stones at them?" he said.

Officials say that holding election in Pulwama is the most difficult task. All the 450 polling stations in the district have been declared hypersensitive. Based on the security assessment, polling booths located deep inside villages have relocated and shifted to safer locations.

"The core focus of our election preparations has been to make sure that elections happen in free, fair and peaceful manner considering Pulwama district in itself is one of the most sensitive in terms of law and order and militancy," said Syed Abid Rashid Shah, Pulwama District Magistrate.

Ahead of polling on Monday, over 150 additional companies are being deployed in this already highly-militarised region which has witnessed frequent encounters and clashes between terrorists and security forces in last four years.



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