NEW DELHI: India’s vaunted democracy turned into a brutal military operation on Sunday in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, where security forces shot dead at least eight protesters campaigning against a parliamentary by-election they didn’t want.
The unusually high number of single-day casualties drew immediate condemnation from Pakistan.
Amid the violence of stone-pelting and police firing the by-election to the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat registered a mere 6.5 per cent turnout, the lowest in 30 years.
Kashmiri resistance groups have called a two-day strike from Monday to protest the eight deaths and 175 injuries.
Reports said the large-scale violence claimed the lives of eight civilians while the prestigious seat recorded a dismal turnout, the region’s Chief Electoral Officer Shantanu told journalists.
He said more than 100 security personnel were also injured in the violence. The CEO said that re-polling might be ordered on anywhere between 50 and 100 booths, according to the Indian Express.
Lowest voter turnout in 30 years; Pakistan seeks world help to stop bloodshed
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last week called on Kashmiris to choose between tourism or terrorism, but Sunday’s tragedy dovetailed with neither description.
Reports said the army was deployed in different parts of the valley as rampaging mobs pelted stones and hurled petrol bombs at various polling booths.
In Budgam, hundreds of protesters stormed a polling station and ransacked a building housing a polling booth.
The security forces reportedly fired several warning rounds to disperse the mob, without success.
Six people were injured in the firing, of them two later died.
In another incident, security forces opened fire to quell a stone-pelting mob in the Ratxuna Beerwah area, killing one Nissar Ahmed. The security forces also opened fire after a mob attacked the polling station at Dalwan village and reportedly damaged the EVMs (electronic voting machines) and prevented voters from exercising their franchise. “Security forces opened fire to protect the polling staff,” a police official was quoted as saying.
Five others died in day-long clashes in various parts of the region.
At least 261,397 voters were eligible to cast vote in the Srinagar-Budgam seat where 1,559 polling stations were set up.
Nine candidates, including National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, are in the fray.
The by-poll from the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency is being held after the seat fell vacant when legislator Tariq Karra resigned during the upsurge of 2016.
Agencies add: “It was not a good day for all of us,” said Shantmanu, who uses only one name.
Many suffered grievous bullet injuries, hospital sources in Srinagar said.
Polling had to be halted in over a dozen places amid a call by top Kashmiri leaders opposed to Indian rule to boycott the by-election.
Ahead of the polling, authorities suspended internet services across the Valley for fear of widespread protests.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz strongly condemned the killing of eight Kashmiris and injuries to others.
In a statement, he said: “The abysmally low voter turnout of below 6 per cent, the lowest in 30 years, is a tangible indication that the [All Parties] Hurriyat [Conference] leadership and the people of Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir have categorically rejected the sham elections, which cannot be an alternative to the right to self-determination promised to them under numerous UNSC resolutions.”
He called upon the international community to urge India to immediately end the bloodshed of innocent Kashmiris and behave as a responsible member of the world community by honouring its commitments to hold a transparent, free and fair plebiscite under the auspices of the UN.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2017