From Caravan Magazine: Ballot Bullet Stone
For Spring the mist was unseasonal, and visibility low on the highway that runs south from Srinagar. There was little traffic, and only men in uniform seemed able to move through the early-morning haze. In khaki, olive green, and mottled camouflage, heavily armed clusters of police, paramilitary and army personnel were everywhere. Their presence is routine in the Kashmir valley, where more than half a million Indian soldiers are stationed, making it one of the most densely militarised zones in the world
But that April morning was not routine. It was voting day in Anantnag, the constituency that covers Kashmir’s southern countryside. This was the first of three seats in the valley that people were voting for in the most recent elections to the Indian Parliament. The others were to follow at week-long intervals. That is probably the time it takes to reassemble the “security grid” for each constituency, without which the conduct of elections is impossible here. (On the day Anantnag, with its 1.3 million registered voters, held elections, 54 million voters in the southern state of Tamil Nadu cast their ballots for 39 seats.)
Kashmiris know that the members of parliament they are asked to vote for have no bearing on the masla-e-Kashmir, “the Kashmir issue,” whose central question of political self-determination has vexed the region for more than sixty years. Nor can their members of parliament significantly affect citizens’ access to roads, schools, hospitals, or even the all-important neighbourhood electricity transformer. Those are the domain of the state government, and elections for the state assembly are expected only at the end of this year. That’s probably why there were no posters or banners or flags or pennants to inform you of that day’s election. What was less easy to explain were the deserted roads, shuttered wayside shops, and the vague anxiety in the air.
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From Himal Southasian: Housed in History
During a trip to North Kashmir’s Kupwara district in late March this year, I, along with some friends, decided to pay a visit to Shahmala Begum, who lives in the sombre village of Trehgam, some 93 kilometres away from the summer capital city of Srinagar in India-administered-Kashmir. The incessant rainfall since morning, the potholes, and puddles of water on the road compelled us to brake regularly in order to prevent drenching people walking on the road with muddy water. Excited but severely restricted by our speed, we set out to meet the aged stepmother of Mohammad Maqbool Bhat.
Relying on directions given to us by passersby, we took a snaky road flanked by vast open fields on either side from the main town of Kupwara. At one point, the blaring speaker of the car’s stereo system was put to a sudden pause, and silence filled the car. “We are passing through Kunan-Poshpora,” my friend remarked. She works with a human-rights support group that seeks justice for the victims of the mass rape of more than 40 women in two villages, during the night of 23 February 1991, by soldiers of the battalion of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles (RR) of Indian Army stationed at Kunan-Poshpora. We passed the twin villages in silence. As if in unsaid mutual agreement, all of us knew that we were driving through one of the most haunted corridors of India’s military occupation of Jammu and Kashmir – a region disputed since the Partition of the Indian subcontinent. After crossing the villages, a short old lady huddled under a big black umbrella pointed us towards the road that meets the Kupwara-Chowkibal highway at the Trehgam taxi stand.
To avoid getting wet in the rain, most people were lined up in front of shops, some waited it out in cars and passenger sheds, while others braved the rain openly. On reaching the taxi stand, I asked a driver, “Where is Mohammad Maqbool Bhat’s home?” “He was hanged!” I blurted out awkwardly, to provide him context.
“You mean shaheed Maqbool Bhat?”
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