Tbe recent by polls in Kashmir saw only around 7% of people exercising their franchise. Fear of violence, boycott call by militants and more importantly resentment against state and central governments played a part.
For last one year or so the local population is becoming increasingly alienated from Indian mainstream.
One shocking image underlined this change. It showed a Kashmiri man tied down to the front of a vehicle of security forces. He was supposed to have been used as a human shield to escape attack by locals with stones.
Army sources said a five-vehicle convoy led by a major was carrying 12 poll officials when they came under heavy stone-pelting by locals, including women, who showered the cars with stones from rooftops in Budgam area on the outskirts of Srinagar.
“The stone attack sent things spinning out of control…it was do or die,” said the official.
“The major who volunteered to serve in Kashmir took the call, deciding not to open fire and unleash bloodbath.”
The man who was seen tied to an army jeep on polling day has been identified as Farooq Dar, while the army unit involved in the act was 53 Rashtriya Rifles.
Officials investigating the matter on the instructions of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, said Dar is a resident of Sitaharaan village in Khag tehsil of Budgam in central Kashmir.
The video, in which a man was seen tied to an army jeep, allegedly as a human shield against stone-pelting, and which had gone viral on social media, had created an outrage in the Valley, forcing the authorities and the army to investigate the matter.
During investigation, Dar said he was out to cast his vote and later visit his sister’s house, where a bereavement had taken place, to offer condolences.
Dar told investigators that after exercising his right to vote, he was proceeding towards his sister’s village when he was caught by the army personnel who wanted to enter Beerwah village along with the polling staff, the officials said.
Dar was tied to a jeep as the army moved into the village, along with a convoy of jawans and some polling staff, they said. The civilian claimed that he was released after he was paraded in 10 to 12 villages, the officials said.
Sources in the army, which has promised an enquiry, claimed that Dar was picked up from a “trouble spot”, and was tied up for barely 100 metres before being released.
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Many say the federal government’s near-complete lack of engagement and dialogue with local stakeholders and Pakistan, a complete mistrust of the local government and a lack of development and jobs have left most people jittery and alienated.
Militancy continues to be at low ebb – there are an estimated 250 militants in the state now of which 150 are local – compared to several thousand during the peak of insurgency in the 1990s.
But young Kashmiris – more than 60% of the men in the valley are under 30, and more than 40% of men in Kashmir are jobless – are restless and angry. The local political parties are in danger of “becoming irrelevant”, as a leader of an opposition party told me.
“This is the worst situation that I have seen. Earlier, it was a movement led by the militants. Now it is being led by the people,” says Feroze Ali, 35, a schoolteacher.
“India needs to be worried, very worried about this.”
Kashmiris are unhappy with the alienation, day to day violence, lack of jobs and lack of self government. Most of them are still not supporters of Islamist secessionists or terrorists from across the border. But the Kashmir policy of Hindutva govt at the helm in Delhi is driving them more and more into the hands of Islamists.