A school building with crumbling walls: Not repaired. A vital bridge whose construction started a long time ago: Never made. These are two chief agenda why many in this village of traditional poll boycotters came out to vote in the assembly elections this time, going from zero voting in the Lok Sabha polls earlier in the year to a steady flow at the polling booth on Tuesday.
Yaroo falls in north Kashmir’s Langate constituency in Kulgam district and has around 200 families that carry nearly a thousand votes. In the previous assembly polls, in 2008, the polling booth here had registered only one vote. The villagers remember who that woman was. However, this time, 183 people had already exercised their franchise by noon.
It is for the first time since militancy erupted in the early nineties that Yaroo has voted this way. Even Mushtaq Ahmad Mir, the booth-level officer who has witnessed many elections in the village, said he was surprised. “This is the first time people are voting,” he said.
There were no long queues, unlike the rest of the constituency currently represented by firebrand independent MLA Engineer Abdul Rashid, yet men and women dressed in traditional attire came to the booth throughout the day, in ones and twos. For them, the election is about ‘bijli, sadak, pani’, or power, roads and water.
“We have no jobs, no employment here. Nobody bothers about us since we don’t vote; but this time we want to give a government a chance,” said Bhat, a daily-wage labourer and also polling agent of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Another resident, Aijaz Ahmed, was quick to point towards the building where the polling was being held. The damaged building is a school, never repaired, he said. “This building was declared unsafe after the 2005 earthquake, but kids still study here,” he added.
Even a bridge that would have connected it to 30 other villages was never made despite a glittering foundation ceremony held in 2008.
The boycott sentiment, however, is not absent. A group of youths standing outside the booth, when asked why they hated to vote, pointed towards the graveyard. “There are more people buried here who have died due to torture or a bullet in their body,” they said. “My uncle’s bullet ridden body was buried here eight years ago. Won’t I betray him if I vote?” asked Arif Hussain.