Only the voter I-card counts in the Valley now
11 August 2002
The Indian Express
Srinagar: The elections are a month away and the poll campaign is yet to gather steam but the common man has begun to feel the heat, and how! The Election Commission says voter identity cards are not mandatory but people are being forced to acquire them. Their compulsion: to avoid harassment by the security forces. ‘‘These voter identity cards have become an issue of life and death for us. If you don’t produce them at a checkpost, you are automatically a suspect,’’ says Riyaz Ahmad, a school teacher from Kupwara. ‘‘I was on my way home from Srinagar when we were stopped for a security check, ahead of Sopore. They refused to recognise our routine identity cards and tore them into pieces. They wanted our voter identity cards.’’ He got such a fright that he did not travel for a week. ‘‘I had to plead with the tehsil office to issue the card because I knew they (security forces) would beat me or even pick me up at check points.’’ Similar stories are pouring in from other districts. Abdul Qayoom had left Pulwama in a bus when it was stopped for a surprise check. ‘‘They asked all the passengers to step down. They did not frisk us but asked for our identity cards. They took them away, warning that these cards were no longer valid and next time we should venture out only with the voter I-cards.’’ A prized possession since the eruption of militancy, these cards have become worthless overnight because of the government’s desperation to generate interest in the ‘‘free and fair’’ polls. The state’s deputy chief electoral officer, B S Jamwal, says he hasn’t heard about these incidents but insisted ‘‘we have time and again reiterated that these cards are in no way mandatory’’. DGP A K Suri questioned the very authority of the security agencies to ask people to prove their identity. ‘‘No Indian citizen can be asked to furnish an identity card to prove his credentials,’’ he said. ‘‘No one, including the police, is authorised to issue identity cards’’. He, however, added that ‘‘the people keep identity cards as a matter of precaution and of their own will’’. Reality is somewhat different. ‘‘There are four permanent check-points on the Srinagar- Bandipore Road and you can cross only if you furnish an identity card,’’ says Sajjad Ahmad Mir of Bandipore. ‘‘We generally would have either cards issued by the local SHO or the tehsildar but now they want only one identity card—the voter identity card,’’ he said. The IGP, Kashmir Range, K Rajendra, admitted that the police had launched a campaign to seize unauthorised I-cards. ‘‘We recover several fake I- cards from every militant who is killed or arrested,’’ he said. When asked why the campaign coincided with the poll process, he said it was ‘‘pure police work’’. Sources claimed that even government employees have been unofficially asked to procure these cards. ‘‘I have 160,000 voters in my tehsil and the last date for issuing of the cards is August 29. How can I verify the identity of every individual who seeks a card,’’ a tehsildar from Kupwara district said. ‘‘We are extremely worried. If a militant gets hold of such a card, it will be a disaster,’’ he said.