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Kashmir breaks with election boycotts, protests Indian policies – by voting

For years, Kashmiris boycotted Indian elections. But the end of the region’s special status has changed that equation.

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Haroon Khan huddled with his friends on the lawn of a polling station in the heart of Nowhatta, a part of the city of Srinagar that is known for its anti-India sentiments. Khan had just emerged from a small room after casting his vote in the ongoing parliamentary elections in India.

For years, most people in Indian-administered Kashmir have boycotted elections, which many here have seen as attempts by New Delhi to legitimise – using democracy – its control over a region that has been a hotbed of armed rebellion against India since 1989. Rebel armed groups and separatist leaders have routinely issued boycott calls ahead of every election.

Yet, as India votes in its national elections, that voting pattern is changing. Five years after the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, abolished its statehood, and brought it under the direct control of New Delhi, 21-year-old Khan and his friends outside the polling booth chose a new form of protest: voting.

“We have not achieved anything from boycotts or choosing other means [stone pelting] of protests to express our dissent,” Khan said. “Many of my friends, neighbours are languishing in jails for years now, nobody cares for them.”

Khan is not alone.

The Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley’s three seats in the lower house of India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha, have been given three different dates for voting in the elections. Srinagar, the only city that has voted so far – on May 13 – saw a 38 percent turnout for the region. That’s the highest voting percentage since 1989. The