SRINAGAR: Kashmir’s youth, many of whom are facing charges for stone pelting, surprised many, especially the separatists, by defying the boycott call and participating in large numbers in the poll process.

Queuing up outside the polling stations, they were agreed that their vote was not against freedom but for a change in government.

“It is time to de-link the elections and our freedom movement. How long will we boycott. This has only helped some people to rule us,” said a group of young people in Bandipur area of North Kashmir.

Many among them were first time voters who said that they were voting to choose a right candidate otherwise the “brutality and fake cases” would continue to ruin their careers and their lives.

The same young people had boycotted the Lok Sabha elections, but changed their mind suddenly and almost at the last moment in these assembly elections. The reasons for voting were varied. “I exercised my franchise against the incumbent MLA’s who failed to withdraw my case,” said Sajad Bhat, a first time voter in Bandipora’s Sumbal area.

“Two FIR’s are lodged against me. I was involved in stone-pelting incidents in 2010. Since then, the charges against me have not been withdrawn. 120 killings of teenage boys, Afzal Guru Execution, all happened in the past six years, now we want to teach this government a lesson,” said Zahoor Ahangar.

Young people outside a polling booth at Sumbal were clear, “Neither have we undermined the value of Hurriyat nor have we forgotten the unflinching sacrifices of the young men who died, but the time has come to separate elections and the Kashmir issue.”

“It is a time to de-link the elections and the Kashmir issue. Our vote is not against freedom, but it is a vote for development and against corruption,” said Owais Gul.

In volatile Hajin town, a bastion of slain counter-insurgent Kuka Parray,a large number of people turned out to vote. Congress candidate and son of Kuka Parray, Imtiyaz Parray is banking upon the youth vote.

“Hajin have suffered a lot in terms of development. The educated youth have no jobs here. This time, we fielded the local candidate and have high hopes on him if he emerges as the winner,” said Tahir Bhat a voter, who took part in the elections despite being a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Jamaat-e-Islami.

The stone-pelters turned voters in Central Kashmir’s Kangan area also didn’t miss the opportunity to take part in the electoral process. “After serious thought, we took this decision to take part in the electoral process to change the political discourse of Kashmir,” a group of youth outside the Kangan polling booth said.