Baramulla, Apr 11: Three single-storey blocks spread on a few kanals of land is what comprises the 66-year-old High School in Singhpora, a village of 20,000 people close to Pattan town in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. 

At 9 am on Thursday, youth and elderly lined up in good numbers to cast their votes in this school. It was A peculiar sight for a village which, over the years, has been in news for nocturnal raids, arrests, boycotts and, of course, stone pelting.

“I have come to vote as I have 17 cases against me. I want to get rid of them,” said 60-year-old Rahim, who did not give his last name.

Rahim claimed he was innocent and that the cases were slapped “to extort money” from him.

“I have never cast a vote before. I am 60. We are forced to vote now. I think that is the only way to save ourselves. Hopefully the candidate I’ve voted for will help me get out of this mess,” he said.

If one was to believe Rahim, as many as 350 youth and elderly in the village had police cases registered against them, many filed during the 2010 and 2016 phases of unrest.

“We have always been terrorised. Not just by the government forces, even the politicians here have neglected us,” he said.

As Rahim spoke, a lanky man with glazed eyes, probably in his early 20s, stood next to him, eager to speak.

 “Mere khilaf paanch parche hain (I have five FIRs against me),” he said, finally jumping into the conversation.

“Every month, I have to be present in the court. I wouldn’t have voted, but there is no option left. I have voted for Rashid Engineer, he is a people’s person. He himself has been thrashed many times like me. I think he will take up our issues and solve them,” said the youth who identified himself as Bilal. 

Youth who’d come to vote huddled Bilal, many shouting that the village was also “entirely neglected” by the politicians.

“This high school has been functioning from the last 60 years yet no one has ever tried to upgrade it to a higher secondary. See the state of this school, all littered with garbage,” said a youth in his 20s, who refused to reveal his name.

By 11:00 am, when this reporter left the scene, 160 votes out of 667 were already polled in one of the three polling stations set up in the school.

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