Will never vote again if Article 370 goes: 82-year-old voter

Since early Thursday morning, people of all ages came out of their homes in Fakir Gojri area of Srinagar to stand in queues and wait for their turn to cast their votes. Among the jubilant voters was 82-year-old Sardar Muhammad Khatana, whose turn to vote came after he waited in a long queue for around two hours.

Holding a stick in his hand, the aged man is an imam (religious preacher) who leads congregational prayers at Jamia Masjid in the area.

Khatana says he doesn’t remember when he voted for the first time in his life, but asserts that he has never missed to vote.

For him, the ongoing parliamentary polls were “different” than all the elections held previously, because of the “assault” on Article 35 A and “special status” of the state guaranteed under Article 370.

Coming out of the polling booth after casting his vote, Khatana said: “I want to tell those for whom I have been voting for the past many years that don’t let my vote go waste this time. Our identity is under attack and the winner of this election needs to raise his voice to protect our identity and special status. If Articles 370 or 35-A are done away with, I will never vote again”.

Fakir Gojri, located amid a hillock on the outskirts of Srinagar city, wore a festive look Thursday, with men, women, youth and many first-time voters waiting desperately to cast their votes. Of 1,000 registered voters in the area, 700 were polled till 2pm.

For Muhammad Gulzar Famda, a local resident, boycotting polls is “not an option”.

“I have never boycotted elections. Today, my all family members voted. There are 11 votes in my family,” Famda said.

“Today’s vote holds a great significance as we want to protect our identity. We don’t want outsiders to settle here. I have been voting in the past for reasons like roads, buildings and a mini-hospital, but today my vote is for safeguarding Kashmir’s identity and special status.”

Lateef Ahmed Bajran, another local resident, was also waiting for his turn in the premises of government school-turned-polling station.

“This area has never boycotted the polls and will never stay away from the electoral exercise in future as well. What might change is the reason for casting the vote. Today, we have a solid reason to vote and tomorrow we can justify today’s vote,” Bajran said.

Fakir Gujri was perhaps the only area in Srinagar that witnessed serpentine queues and a festive polling atmosphere.