Akshay, 24, does not have friends in the Valley, nor does he know anyone there, yet he wants to return to his ancestral place, as he has been hearing from parents and other elderly relatives that Kashmir is a heaven on earth. His parents migrated to Jammu in the wake of militant violence in the early 1990s. His ancestral house at Kokernag is in shambles.
Just like Akshay, many other migrant Kashmiri pandits voted in the phase three Lok Sabha elections held on Tuesday. In a bid to enable migrant Kashmiris to vote without visiting their respective parliamentary constituencies in the Valley, special polling stations were set up in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi by the ECI.
Working in a private consultancy company, the maximum period Akshay stayed in Srinagar was nearly two months in 2017 when he went there on an official assignment. “I stayed in a hotel there,” he said, adding that though he visited his native village Kokernag on various occasions, he does not know much about the people there.
“I want to return there as the climate is good,” he said, adding “one can see the hospitality of local people only when one starts living with them permanently. At present, we go there for only a few days as a tourist.” he added.
Pointing out that he had cast his vote in 2014 as well, he said that it did not bring the desired results, Akshay, who exercised his right to franchise for the second time in parliamentary elections at a booth set up near Nagrota, hopes that this time his vote may pave way for their homecoming in the Valley.
Like him, most of the Kashmiri migrants who cast their vote on Tuesday expressed confidence that it will get them honourable and dignified return to the Valley.
“Though politicians come and give us hope every time and do not visit us again after the elections, one cannot lose hope,” said Romesh Koul who along with his wife and a daughter also voted.
Romesh Koul’s father-in-law, a revenue department official, was publicly hanged by militants at Tooru village during the 1990s. “Almost all Kashmiri Pandits have a similar story, but we cannot stay away from home forever,” he added. Meanwhile, 40-year-old Sunita Bhat wants to return home as there was continuous erosion of their culture among the younger generation who have been staying away from Valley since birth. There was also growing unemployment among children, she pointed out, adding that life has not been easy while living in exile.
Spread over four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama, the parliamentary seat has 16 assembly constituencies, where polling is being held in three phases.
Of the total 6,745 registered Kashmiri Pandit migrant voters, 59 per cent turnout was recorded during the day. In view of the situation, Election Commission had fixed poll timings in Anantnag parliamentary constituency from 7 am to 4 pm.
However, a number of migrants held demonstrations at Jagti alleging that they could not cast vote as their names did not figure in the list of voters provided at the polling stations. “We had filled up M Form, but our names were not sent here by the officials,” said Raj Nath Pandita.
The claims were however denied by the ARO (migrants) saying that he did not reject a single M Form.