Why The DDC Election Sent Two Bandipore Voters To The Court?

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by Tarushi Aswani

The Centre undertook the reading down of Article 370 and 35A on greater integration of J&K with India. However, Kashmiris have to knock on courts to seek their fundamental rights.

Voters in the queue at a polling booth in Fakir Gujri in Harwan area of Srinagar on Saturday, November 28, 2020, during DDC elections. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

On December 10, when polling started in Bandipora district’s Arin village amid harsh weather and fears of coronavirus, voters reached various polling stations to cast their votes. The crowds include Nawaz ul Haq Wani, who reached his polling station, Government Girls Middle School, Arin to cast his vote for his DDC candidate.

Wani, 28, who has voted previously as well, was shocked to hear from the Presiding Officer at the said polling station to know that his name was not listed on the electoral rolls.

In a conflict zone laced with a perpetual military presence, curtailment of civil liberties and constant outage of resources and services due to political rivalries among the belligerents, Kashmiris came out to vote for their chosen representatives in eight phases between November 28, and December 19, 2020.

Another voter from Arin, Ghulam Mohiuddin, also reached the said polling booth to cast his vote. Despite holding a valid voter ID card, he was also barred from voting. Reason – his name did not reflect on the lists.

On December 21, advocates Naveed Para and Rafiq Bhat filed a petition in J&K High Court against the violation of the petitioners’ Right to Vote as well as infringement of their fundamental right as guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) and Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

“I am a firm believer of the democratic process, however, it was extremely shocking for me when I went to cast my vote for DDC election in my constituency Arin and was denied the right to vote by the concerned officer because of no mention of my name on the electoral rolls,” Wani said. “I kept telling him that I have voted before and showed him my ID yet I was denied. I have been denied my freedom to choose the representative of my choice, but myself being a law knowing the person I approached the Court for claiming my violated right.”

Mohiuddin has many questions. “Why was my name not in the electoral list? How is it possible that despite having valid voter ID card my name doesn’t reflect there? I am a simple farmer and my small wish was to choose a candidate who would develop my village. But unfortunately, I was denied my right,” he asked.

Both petitioners are residents of Khairpora, Arin, Bandipora. They have never moved to any other locality, have argued that despite their name and their families’ names being enumerated in the earlier electoral lists issued by the competent authority from time to time, yet in the recent electoral roll prepared by respondents for the ongoing DDC and Panchayat by-elections, 2020, name of the petitioners were missing in the electoral roll. By virtue of the omission, the counsel argued that the petitioners had faced a loss of their fundamental right to vote for the candidate of their choice. The deprivation of the voting right during the election is tantamount to violation of their fundamental right, the counsel has argued. Interestingly, December 10 was the World Human Rights Day.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on December 23, issued a notice to the respondents – UT of Jammu and Kashmir through the Chief Secretary Government of Jammu and Kashmir, State

Election Commissioner Election Authority J&K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, UT of Jammu and Kashmir through the Chief Electoral Officer, J&K and Ladakh/ Commissioner/Secretary to Government, Election Department, District Panchayat Officer (DC) Bandipora, J&K, Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) Bandipora, Kashmir, Block Development Officer Arin, Bandipora,

Assistant Electoral Registration Officer (AE RO), as well as the Presiding Officer, DDC Election Polling Booth.

A Gujjar female voter in Srinagar outskirts shows indelible ink mark on her finger after she cast vote in Harwan area on Saturday, November 28, 2020. The area is elected its representative for the District Development Council (DDC). KL Image: BIlal Bahadur

Advocate Rafiq Bhat believes this case is unique in nature as a person from a remote village is fighting for his voting rights. Such cases are very rare in this part of the world, he said. It signals how voter has become more and more conscious of his rights. It is obviously healthy for a democratic process. On the matter, Advocate Naveed Para feels happy that citizens have become conscious about their rights and repose their trust in Courts for the violation of their rights. He says, “Freedom of choice is a very important right, and denial of same is fatal for participatory democracy.” He further adds, “Free and fair election as one of the basic structure of the Constitution also favours that all the eligible voters should be allowed to vote in a dignified manner and any misinformation on part of the authorities must be properly dealt with. A case like this may set examples of the need for electoral consciousness among the voters and onus of responsibility upon the election conducting authorities to prepare electoral rolls with due application of mind.”

Tarushi Aswani

Kashmir saw record minimal turnout in certain constituencies in South Kashmir despite neither separatists nor militants calling for a boycott. While the rest of Indian states and territories are known for ample voter turnout, Kashmir is known for setting records of boycotting the electoral processes. In such a situation, democratic India, two men from Arin come out to vote but are not able to exercise their right. In such an atmosphere, it is on the State’s account that these two Kashmiris with genuine desire to cast their votes were denied their rights due to negligence within the State machinery.

The Centre undertook the reading down of Article 370 and 35A on greater integration of J&K with India. However, Kashmiris have to knock on courts to seek their fundamental rights.

(@tarushi_aswani is an independent journalist. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)

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