Heavily guarded polling stations in Kashmir

Kashmiris urged to boycott vote

SRINAGAR – Hundreds of Kashmiri people hurled rocks at polling stations in the disputed Himalayan territory on Thursday on a major day of voting in India’s general election.

Indian armed forces used tear gas and wooden batons to disperse the protesters, but there was no disruption in the voting, a police officer in the area said. The protests in Kashmir came as millions of people turned out in 11 states on Thursday for the second-biggest day of voting in the election.

Indian Kashmir elects only six members for the 543-member strong Indian parliament, but voting there will take place over several days due to security concerns. Several Kashmiri politicians have urged people to boycott the vote to show that they do not recognise India’s sovereignty.

Thursday’s protests spread to nearly two dozen towns and villages in the region. Aqib Ahmed, a young voter, said he couldn’t remain blind to Indian abuses on Kashmiris. “So I am not voting,” he said. However, Abdul Ahad, 50, said the people were facing multiple issues in the region.

Voting was light to non-existent at heavily guarded polling stations in areas of Anantnag constituency after some local groups asked people not to take part. “I voted because if we send the right person to the Indian parliament he will raise our voice for freedom,” said Umair, reflecting widespread sentiment in the area.

In the town of Tral, 35 kilometres from the main city of Srinagar, the streets were empty except for paramilitary forces and police, with not a single vote cast at one polling station by noon. Very few in the state would be expected to support election frontrunner Narendra Modi who is leading campaigning for the BJP.

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