Zungalpora (Kulgam): PDP worker Mohammad Jammal from South Kashmir’s Kulgam district knew casting his vote would not be easy this time, yet he insisted he and his family would not stay away from the polling booths.
On April 29, the polling day, the 65-year-old from Zungalpora was unwell and could not go out to vote. But he made sure his family did. In their village, which consists of around 500 households, only seven votes were cast. Five of them came from Jammal’s family.
Jammal, his family said, was happy that polling went peacefully, despite the extraordinary situations in which it was held. But the peace lasted only till this last Sunday.
Jammal was shot five times while he was inside his room. Two bullets had pierced his abdomen, two hit both the arms and one had hit his nose.
It was half an hour after Iftaar—evening time when Muslims break their fast in the month of Ramadan— when a person appeared on the veranda outside the window of Jammal’s room.
Before he could see, the gunman fired at him from a pistol and fled. He was taken to a nearby hospital, from where doctors referred him to tertiary care hospital in Srinagar. But Jammal succumbed to his injuries.
The family says he was killed because they cast their votes in the elections. “The only apparent reason behind this killing is that this family cast the vote when most of the people stayed indoors,” said Tariq Ahmad Bhat, son-in-law of Jammal.
His angry family members seek answers. How can someone be killed for casting a vote, they ask. “The fight is between militants and the forces. A person who has a political opinion cannot be killed. Gun has to fight with gun and not a 65-year-old ailing man,” said enraged Tariq.
Boycott and Fear
The Lok Sabha election in Kashmir, particularly in southern parts, was held amid extreme tension owing to public anger, the threat of militants and separatists’ call for boycott in response to the government’s muscular policy in the state that has led to the deaths of over a 100 civilians and widespread unrest in the last three years.
There was widespread anger against the poll process and militants had threatened to kill those who voted. Given this situation, the Election Commission of India (ECI) decided to hold polls in the Anantnag constituency—which covers the four districts of south Kashmir—in three phases.
The voters, however, stayed away from booths and turnout remained at just 9 per cent.
Police officials said militants were behind Jammal’s killing as they want to create fear among the people for the next elections to the assembly for which dates are yet to be announced.
However, no militant organisation has claimed responsibility for the shooting and two other attacks, which took place last week.
On May 15, two locals working as pharmacists were kidnapped in the afternoon by militants from Zainapora area of Shopian district. By the evening, the duo were found in a pool of blood in the nearby Rebbon village. Their body was pierced by bullets.
Identified as Irfan Ahmad Lone (21) and Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat (28), both were workers of PDP and had cast votes in the recent polls. While Bhat is battling for life in a Srinagar hospital, Irfan succumbed to his injuries.
A first time voter, Irfan was the lone son of his ailing parents. “The only sin he had done was he had cast his vote,” said a relative of Irfan.
As the elections come to an end, the life of mainstream political activists who cast their vote or campaigned in the recent elections have become difficult.
Over a dozen activists were kidnapped in the last two weeks and were thrashed and tortured by the militants.
“The militants came to my house in the evening and kidnapped me. They took me to an unknown place and started beating me with gun butts,” said a political activist from Shopian area. “I begged them for my life. They kept beating me but somehow didn’t fire,” he said.
Earlier, a district vice-president of BJP was also killed by suspected militants in south Kashmir’s Anantnag.
Owing to the rise in frequency, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has ordered a probe into the attacks on political activists in the state since October last year.
The fresh attacks have instilled fear among the political activists, who are time and again being targeted. Dozens of political activists have fled their homes and are in hiding.
The political leaders in the valley have expressed their concerns over these attacks. Reacting to the killing of her party’s activist, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti termed it “mindless violence.”
“Heartbreaking. Party workers in Kashmir put their neck on the line & have to suffer for their beliefs. Ironic that such mindless violence is justified in the name of Islam in the month of Ramzan. Shame on these cowards who call themselves Muslims,” she wrote on Twitter.
These killings only depict that the assembly polls in the valley will be a more challenging task and huge costs are on the stake.