On 13 December, Saima Jan woke up earlier than usual to reach the Government Boys Middle School in Tangnar village, which had been turned into a polling station, for the sixth phase of the District Development Council (DDC) elections and the panchayat by-elections, to cast her vote for the first time.
Jan, 30, has not voted in the more than half a dozen elections held since she turned eighteen — the legal age to be eligible for voting. She is exercising her franchise for the first time in 2020 because this time her father is contesting the elections.
Standing in a long queue in the congested space of the polling station, Jan waited for her turn to vote for the first time along with her younger sister Aarifa who was also voting for the first time. “I never felt the need to vote till now,” said Jan.
Located on a picturesque hillside, covered in snow, the school was filled with voters since about 8 am. Many voters that The Kashmir Walla spoke with, said that they had come out to vote either in support of their family members, neighbours, or candidates known to them.
None echoed aspirations for change or development. Jan, too, only hoped that her father would win the elections. “My father is a good man. I am sure that he must have good plans for his people,” said Jan, who was reserved about her comments. “I am not sure what will happen next but I am only voting to make my father win.”
About five kilometers from this polling station, Shakir, who only gave his first name, had also come to vote for the first time. He stood in a corner of the higher secondary school in Hayatpora in Chadoora, with a group of friends.
The 22-year-old decided to cast his first vote for his sister, who is contesting the elections as an independent candidate. “I had never voted before but I was compelled by my family,” said Shakir, as he attempted to hide the indelible ink on his finger.
His friends were opposed to participating in the electoral process and Shakir felt nervous under the peer pressure. “My friends have never voted and that is why I did not want to vote as well but this was important for my family,” he said.
Coming from a family that has been voting over the years, Shakir was the first one to decide to go against his family — by not voting — but this time was different. “Even if we vote, nothing is going to change for the people,” said Shakir. “This time it is for my sister.”
“There has not been any development till now but if my sister wins, she might do something for her family and people,” he added.
Zainaa Begum, a woman in her 40s, limped her way into the Government Girls Middle School in Sogam, also in the Chadoora area. A large number of people thronged the polling stations since polling began at 7 am.
The government forces personnel on duty, seemingly overwhelmed by the sudden turnout so early in the morning, checked underneath pherans of the voters and seized their kangers (traditional firepots).
Protocols for the prevention of COVID-19 pandemic were being partially followed as health workers donning full body protective suits checked every voter’s temperature, before another security person would finally allow them in. None of the voters, however, wore masks.
After casting her vote, Zainaa, too, came out attempting to hide the indelible ink on her finger. “Voting means very little to me but why do we vote? It is because he [DDC candidate] are our neighbours so it is our duty to stand behind them.”
As she walked out of the polling station, she was greeted by a group of women from her locality who were now making their way to the polling station. Upon asking them if they were going to cast their votes, the women agreed in unison. One of the women said: “We have to support our own. Whether tomorrow they do something good or not, we are sure at least they won’t do anything bad for us.”
Till 1 pm, 27.44 percent votes were cast in the Budgam district.
Contrary to the voter’s statements, Farooq Andrabi, media advisor of the newly formed J-K Apni Party, who was present at the Hayatpora polling station said: “Majority of the first time voters are educated and are young. [Voters] know their votes are valuable and their vote will bring the change in their local level. They will see and feel the difference.”