Aditya Raj Kaul (19), a Kashmiri Pandit, has lived in Delhi for 18 years. But when it comes to exercising his franchise, he wants to do so as a Kashmiri.
“My family fled Kashmir when I was one, but I am extremely attached to my homeland. In the elections, I would like to vote as a Kashmiri, rather than a Delhi resident,” said Kaul, who is also the founder of Roots in Kashmir, a youth group of Kashmiri Pandits.
“As we did not willingly leave Kashmir, we feel the election commission should take steps to ensure that our voices are heard in the state,” Kaul said.
The sentiment echoes amongst several young Kashmiris. Forced to flee their homeland twenty years ago, they feel disheartened by the electoral system and say the process of voting for a migrant Kashmiri is discouraging.
The election commission has set up four polling booths in Delhi and one in Udhampur for Kashmiri migrants to vote. However, a sizeable number of Kashmiri migrants also live in other cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune. “It is unfair that while others get a day off to vote, we are expected to take leave and fly to Delhi or Jammu to vote,” said 22 year-old Pooja Shali. She said such a process could erase Kashmiri Pandits from the geographical horizon and voters’ lists of Kashmir.
Kashmiris in the city are also against the compulsory M-forms (migration form) that they have to fill while voting. “The M-form system should be deleted from the process to ease the lengthy enrollment and voting process,” Kaul said, adding that even the ‘migrant’ term pains them. “We were forced out at gunpoint, so we feel the term is derogatory,” he said.
Church puts in a word
The Federation of Catholic Associations of Delhi (FCAD) believes that Delhi’s Christians — 3.5 lakh in number — should play a more proactive role in the polls and has urged them to vote.
“The community has not always had an easy time in playing their political role. Over 70,000 domestic workers from Orissa and Jharkhand remain disenfranchised, without a ration card. Another segment of the floating population, working nurses and the working class, have no vote,” said John Dayal, Christian activist and secretary general of the All India Christian Council.
Jenis Francis, FCAD president, stressed the minority choose a party that shuns sectarian politicians and has a secular record. “We should choose a party that ensures that minorities and poor are not demonised,” he said.