Women defy militant diktat to vote in large numbers
25 September 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Srinagar: Where men feared to tread, women dared to go. This was the scene in most of the constituenties which went to polls in the second phase of Jammu and Kashmir elections yesterday. Unconcerned about the militant threats, hordes of enthusiastic women were seen at several hundred polling booths in the twin districts of Srinagar and Badgam waiting for their turn to vote. However, their male partners shied away from exercising their franchise and prefered to stay indoors due to the fear of the gun. At several places women were seen dancing to the tunes of Kashmiri lyrics of well known poets to provoke their male counterparts to shed their inhibitions and join them in the battle for ballot. The high-profile Ganderbal constituency where National Conference (NC) Chief Ministerial candidate Omar Abdullah is locked in a tough contest against Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nominee Qazi Mohammad Afzal, wore a festive look with women attired in traditional dresses came in groups to the polling booths. Some of them were seen carrying tiffins and children on their shoulders. Badgam, Chrar-e-Sharief, Beerwah, Chadoora, Hazratbal, Zadibal, Habak, Laar, Khanihuma, Theeru, Tulmulla and few other places witnessed a high turnout of female voters. ''We have decided about our future today... Women should take a lead in such matters,'' said Nasreen at Laar. In Badgam constituency, where Shia religious head Aga Ruhullah is contesting on the NC ticket, hundreds of women came out to participate in the democratic process. ''Why should we stay indoors? this is the day of reckoning,'' said Ayesha at Badgam Main Chowk. A female voter, Rafiqa, was seen arguing with poll officials as she claimed that her vote had already been cast. ''Vote is my democratic right. I want to exercise my franchise but they say it had already been cast... How could that be?'' she asked. Rafiqa said she was a graduate and knew to put a signature instead of a thumb impression. ''They say my thumb impression is there. Why should I do so when I can easily put a signature on the papers?'' Another women voter Shakila Bano was even more vociferous. ''I pity those women who do not take part in this democratic process. We have an important role in the decision-making and why should we lag behind our male counterparts?'' she asked. ''We have seen more female than male voters in this booth. Many women had turned up even before the polling actually began... They did not mind waiting for exercising their franchise,'' said a polling official at Khanihuma polling station.