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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Deaths and injuries sustained by Kashmiris: Majority vote by staying away from State By-election

The world’s largest democracy, India, saw violent clashes between soldiers and protesters in Sunday’s by-election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in which eight people died. The by-election itself which had been boycotted by the Kashmiri opposition parties had a poor voter turnout of only 7.14 percent. Elections were being held in Srinagar and in ten other constituencies in eight states, including New Delhi’s Rajouri Garden.

Kashmiri resistance groups have now called a two-day strike from Monday to protest the eight deaths and 175 injuries that occurred. Over 100 security forces were also injured.

The 2014 parliamentary polls saw a 26 percent voter turnout and before that previously, lowest recorded turnout has been 11.93% in 1999 when Omar Abdullah defeated Mehbooba Mufti in a straight contest.

Read more: Are Indian fears about CPEC related to Kashmir issue?

According to state poll panel chief Shantmanu, re-polling could be ordered “anywhere around 50 or 100 polling stations or more”. In all, by-elections were held in nine assembly constituencies in six states, besides the Srinagar parliamentary seat.

Shantmanu, who is Jammu and Kashmir chief electoral officer admitted that the by-poll in Anantnag on April 12 will pose big challenges.

“There were more than 200 incidents of violence, mostly in Budgam district, which included stone-pelting, petrol bomb attacks, setting fire to a polling station and some vehicles, and an attempt to burn two more of the polling booths.”
– Shantmanu

A boycott of by-elections in Kashmir was called by the separatists after the violence broke out. According to the separatists, it is not the right time to exercise democracy in Kashmir especially after the protests that took place as a result of Burhan Wani’s killing.

Read more: Barbarity with Modernity: India introduces new pellet guns for Kashmiris

The ruthless use of pellet guns continues

To enforce the boycott, people took to the streets beyond the constituency, straddling Srinagar, Budgam, and Ganderbal districts.

Polling staff had abandoned almost 70% of booths in Budgam district because of the violent protests. The Army was called out to help security forces suppress the furious mobs throwing stones and petrol bombs at polling stations in Ganderbal district.

For the dispersion of mobs, bullets and a new type of pellets – were fired by the security teams. Senior doctors at Budgam district hospital confirmed that the majority of patients were being treated for pellet wounds.

Compared to 2014 parliamentary polls, which recorded 26%, the tentative voter turnout this year is much lower.

Read more: Kashmir: A crisis the world wants to ignore

The new pellet guns are equipped with a ‘deflector’. The purpose of this deflector is to stop the bullet from ascending and with this muzzle the shrapnel will not hit a target above abdominal region. A CPRF officer said, “We have asked our men to fire at the feet now… By using a deflector, there is only a two percent chance that the shot fired may hit above the point of aim as compared to the rate of 40 percent earlier.” The earlier pellet guns used for crowd dispersion, which India stopped using after an international outcry, resulted in more than 69 deaths, with approximately 600 people being blinded.

A majority of dead people were young men, including a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old.

Read more: Pakistan: India shells kill three children in Kashmir

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said she was aggrieved that most of them were teenagers. “I am distressed… they were yet to understand the intricacies of the issues,” she said.

Omar Abdullah, former chief minister and opposition National Conference working president, whose father Farooq Abdullah is opposing the by-poll, said he has never seen this kind of violence during elections in Kashmir.

“I am talking about having fought my first election in 1998 at the peak of militancy. Even then the environment for campaigning and voting was not as bad as it is today. That may itself tell you just how mismanaged this state is under Mehbooba Mufti.”
– Omar Abdullah

According to state poll panel chief Shantmanu, re-polling could be ordered “anywhere around 50 or 100 polling stations or more” due to violence, “The tentative voter turnout is 6.5%,” he said.

Read more: Kashmir Day: Why Feb 5 becomes important?

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Srinagar to inaugurate a road tunnel and had exhorted the Kashmiris to decide whether they wanted ‘tourism or terrorism.’ During, yesterday’s election the army was deployed in different parts of the valley as rampaging mobs pelted stones and hurled petrol bombs at various polling booths and showed their dissatisfaction with the process.

Pakistan condemns brutal killings in Kashmir

Calling this poll a “Sham”, Pakistan strongly condemned the brutal killings of eight people in Kashmir.

The Pakistani Foreign Office issued a statement, saying:

“We call upon the international community to urge India to put an immediate end to the ongoing bloodshed of innocent Kashmiris and behave as a responsible member of the international community by honouring its commitments to hold a transparent, free and fair plebiscite under the auspices of the UN in accordance with the UNSC resolutions to ascertain the wishes of the Kashmiri people.”

Read more: CPEC does not change Beijing’s position on “Kashmir” – China Clarifies but why?

The Pakistan Foreign Office stated that despite “Indian state terrorism and repression”, the steadfast resolve displayed by the Kashmiris are holding sends a clear cut message to India that they remain undeterred in their goal for the realization of the right to self-determination.

Moreover, Nafees Zakaria, Foreign Office spokesperson, tweeted that Pakistan will continue to extend diplomatic, moral and political support to Kashmiris in their indigenous movement for self-determination.

“Indian genocide in IOK is condemnable. Perpetrators must be brought to justice… UN should take note, stop Kashmiris’ bloodshed in IOK by Indian occupation forces,” he further added.

The question of Kashmir’s independence and an end to Indian atrocities still stands where it was decades ago, as India as a hegemonic power, refuses to give up on what it sees as its territory. Attention was taken away from atrocities committed by Indian soldiers last year, after the killing of Burhan Wani in July, when the Uri attack in September, ratcheted up tensions between India and Pakistan.

Modi accused of it being orchestrated by Pakistan-based militants – an allegation that the Pakistani government has strongly denied. Most Pakistani experts and media suspect that Uri was a false flag operation created by Indian intelligence to divert attention from the political crisis in Kashmir.

Kashmir has separate status within the Indian union, unlike any other Indian state, this was assured to it in 1952 through an agreement signed between Indian PM Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah and was ensured through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which allowed it a temporary accession to India but this was subject to the plebiscite to be held.

Narendra Modi’s BJP party won the 2014 elections on the promises of rescinding the Article 370 and turning Kashmir into any other standard Indian state. However, it seems the Kashmiri youth at least, that constitutes the major force behind the ongoing insurgency, are not prepared to settle for anything less than full independence from India.