The value of my vote

Rouf Dar

Elections are on course once again in the disputed land of Jammu and Kashmir. Despite being a farce, India has never hesitated from holding elections even if it requires employing coercive tactics to enforce polling participation. A large percentage of voter turnout is what India needs. It enables them to portray an image of a normalised Kashmir in the world. They want to dupe the world public into a fallacy that Kashmir is peaceful as long as accession with India continues.

The onset of elections means a few days off for people, students in particular. This year winter vacation was announced early, apparently in view of the elections. Consequently, many dear friends studying in Srinagar or elsewhere returned home. Partly because of the threats that accompany elections in Kashmir and partly to spend some quality time at home. It is always delightful to meet companions over long periods of talks on shop fronts. Our circle
consists mostly of postgraduates with me being the only undergraduate (due to postponement of exams or I would have been a graduate by now).

Everyday Maghrib (dusk) prayers are followed by extended periods of togetherness. And what else to do but discuss. Discussions are integral to the association of people on shop fronts in Kashmir, from cricket to politics and films to religion. No current affair is missed. Our conference is a la ‘newshour’ but for the language and the rhetoric as well. We decided to communicate in the universally popular language though our dialect and pronunciation fits the standards by no means.

One evening our Newshour debate was underway. The topic of the day concerned assembly elections in Kashmir. There were arguments for and against boycotting the elections. Views were put forth. Opinions were expressed. Slangs flew. By passers would peek and leave, thinking of us as mad aliens. Each speech had many words of ‘a’‘ae’‘the the’ embedded within, courtesy the unfamiliarity at speaking the language. The conversation was on. Suddenly we spotted some youth running along the road. Their pherans were upon shoulders and hands raised up. We sensed danger. Quicker than our senses, Rashtriya Rifles men appeared behind them as if they were herding a flock of sheep. We were ordered to join the group and made to run a distance till we reached village interiors. Our marathon ended there. The Army men asked to put off torchlight. This dictum came after the villagers had been directed to carry a torchl whenever venturing out in the dark. The pro-election exponents in our group got an indication of what they would be voting for.

Incidents like these are why we boycott the elections. This sense of restriction, occupation and oppression disallows us to ink our fingers. But, is this why people vote? They may put forth arguments in favour of Sadak, Bijli and Paani but we do not receive ample proportions of that either. India has been utilising, exploiting to be precise, our resources since ages. And what do we get in return? Nothing, but ‘Babaji Ka Thullu’. Are the in-power people required to fulfill the
needs of only those who vote for them? This means supporters of other parties cannot claim access to any basic amenities from them. Then the claims of boycotting diaspora are not justified either. Rightly so. But are they providing us facilities from their own pockets? Are they using their own resources to satiate our needs? Are they getting us niceties from their masters in New Delhi? No way. The resources are ours. The right upon final produce is ours as well. It has nothing to do with our voting or boycotting. The government serves as an industry or a mediator which processes our resources to provide us with the ultimate product. We pay their services. That is all. The role of government ends here though I hardly ever managed to justify it successfully.

Elections cannot be a substitute to the plebiscite, proposed by the United Nations for resolution of Kashmir dispute. It is just an imperial activity to maintain occupation of the valley. Two perceptions may form the rationality of a voter in Kashmir. One he votes for development, and the second he votes for fundamental human rights and justice. However, ideally, both should have existed together. The former is never guaranteed even after voting unless you are somehow personal to the ruling crop. The latter has never been part of any manifestations of political parties in Kashmir. Thus, the basic aim of voters is never materialised except for the politicians and their followers who continue to accumulate capital in their bank accounts.

Boycotting elections is a manner of rejecting the illegal Indian control over Kashmir valley. Voting in Kashmir is conclusive only in referendum. If democratic system allows for freedom of speech, opinion and expression, then boycott in itself is an opinion. If our pleads and plight go unheard, then elections are undemocratic. If the perpetrators of violence are not punished, then election process is a sham. If the determination of Kashmiris is trashed, then democracy cannot assert to be of the people, by the people, for the people. Such democratic elections can only postulate to be of the occupation, by the occupation, for the occupation.

Meanwhile, paramilitary forces have settled down in the local higher secondary school. The government announced winter vacations earlier to facilitate their occupancy of educational institutions. Flood-affected people were not shifted to schools but left at the behest of their relatives. Now, the government has vacated schools for a farcical democratic exercise. I remember a similar situation of my own college since last month. The movement of armed forces within the college campus was usual and frequent. The students of Kashmir are required to study in such an environment where a peek from the classroom window falls upon a man in uniform. But these are matters of least significance for the state government and their headmasters in the Indian capital.

Whatever is the voter turnout in this election, they cannot form an eternal solution to the decades-long conflict. Elections cannot stop oppression. They cannot ward off tyrants. They cannot mete out justice to the victims. And they never will. Rather elections enhance and strengthen occupation. In addition, provides the colonialist an instrument for continued subjugation. The solution is a state of freedom, or say, ‘Aazadi’. When the day finally comes, boycott will be a mirage.

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the website.