April 2004 News

Guns Silent In Kashmir Border Voting

20 April 2004

Suchetgarh: For the first time in over a decade, the people of Suchetgarh, a village in the northern Jammu region of Indian-administered Kashmir, have voted in peace. There was no rattle of gunfire from across the border, neither there was any fear of that happening. The village is a mere 100 metres from the border with Pakistan, a dividing line marked by barbed wire. Half of the 2,000 residents of the village are registered voters. In the small polling station, the mood has been unusually relaxed for a border village. 'No fear of firing' Brita Ram, a 65-year-old farmer and one of the first voters, said he was happy to punch his choice of candidate into the electronic voting machine. May God bless the leaders of India and Pakistan with saner sense so that this [ceasefire] continues Villager Sheila Devi 'This election is different. There is no fear of firing from across the border. I feel great,' he said. Ram fervently hoped that the next election would be also held in an 'atmosphere free of firing.' For the residents of border villages like Suchetgarh, the current ceasefire between India and Pakistan is the best thing to have happened in their lives. The villagers, mostly farm workers and labourers, would usually migrate to safer areas when the firing across the border between the two neighbours began. They could not cultivate their farms, which were sometimes mined when India amassed troops on the border. Now things have changed for the better. Normal crop For the first time in many years, the villagers have had a normal crop. Villagers hope the election will mark a new start for them Even the security on polling day was relaxed. Only three local policemen were guarding the polling station. The paramilitary soldiers in the local border post also looked relaxed. 'It's a normal vigil today like any other day since the ceasefire began last November,' a soldier said. The villagers took time off from their busy harvesting season chores to cast their ballots. The elders collected outside the polling stations and coaxed others to vote. 'I think our village will register 100% polling,' said villager Jang Bahadur Singh. He said he was proud to cast his vote which 'will contribute to the making of a new government'. The villagers hope that this election will mark a new, hopeful beginning in their lives. Sheila Devi, who claims to be 100 years old, is one of them. Bowed with age and walking with the help of a stick, she said: 'May God bless the leaders of India and Pakistan with saner sense so that this [ceasefire] continues.'


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