Arshad, a fresh faced eighteen year old boy, is a resident of Khanyar in Srinagar who has come to vote for the first time in his life. Old city is deserted, like a city bereft of people. It’s the ‘day of democracy’ in Srinagar and at a polling booth in Nowhatta, right opposite the police station along with several animated young men, Arshad is waiting in line to cast his vote.
“I came with my grandmother and elder brother,” he says pointing towards a small room where votes are cast. An cheerful old lady bursts out of the room displaying her inked finger to his grandson. He laughs. “She is an NC supporter but I hate them all,” he says.
This is the fifth polling booth I have visited since morning. It’s the only one where I see a queue of voters. At other polling booths, armed men outnumber voters and the polling staff. A presiding officer at a polling booth in Rainawari smirks as he looks about himself. Only a single vote has been cast here and he wants the day to ‘finish quickly’.
Arshad remarks about Azadi that it will not come soon and ‘there is no good in wasting one’s vote’. Outside, Nowhatta Chowk is pulsating in fierce sunlight. The day is hot and hundreds of armed personal are precariously stationed at nooks and gullies, in anticipation of boys with stones.
“Nowhatta is most peaceful during elections,” a twenty something man, sitting idly on a shop front, tells me. It’s an unusual observation. The paramilitary trooper standing nearby adjusts the gun on his shoulder.
Inside another polling booth, a dusky man with a white beard, wearing a spotless white Kurta pajama is doing rounds between rooms. He shouts at his men, who mumble answers but are kept silent by his rising tone.
“Vote tcha pyevan (Are votes being cast?),” he asks one of the men sitting inside the room. “Ahanez,” a small-framed man sporting a Hitler moustache answers. “Paansie tcha pyeaven? (Are votes cast in our favor or not?),” he thunders. The man inside the room nods in affirmation.
A sense of eeriness engulfs me as I roam through Rajouri Kadal. Not a soul is in sight. The call of poll boycott by Hurriyat is firmly in place. I am stopped thrice by men in uniform. As I reach Islamia School, a row of boys look inquisitively at me. They are sitting peaceably on a shop-front, one of them holding a cricket bat.
At the gate of the school, I am frisked and let inside only after my media credentials are verified. As soon as I enter the gate, a cracker bursts at a small distance away from me in the play ground. The loud noise startles the men in khaki, but they sink back on knowing it’s just a cracker.
“Yimav wout subhi pyethai taas lagavan (They are throwing crackers at us since morning),” a broad faced polling officer tells me with a mischievous smile. It’s 2 in the afternoon and just two votes have been cast here. The polling officer is anxiously waiting for the day to end so that he can go back to his family and resume his normal work. He is a teacher.
Last night while travelling from Gogji Bagh Youth Hostel, the polling party had come under attack from angry stone-throwing youth. Two of their men received injuries. The polling party had spent the night in perpetual fear.
“Elections are a curse,” said the polling officer, fuming in anger. “We wish in future we are not given any election duty,” he adds in a hopeful tone.
I walk back home as the day nears its end. On reaching Nowhatta Chowk, I see paramilitary men shuffling as a stone from an unknown direction is thrown at them.
Originally published here — https://archive.authintmail.com/article/reporters-journal/curse-elections