Elections for State government kicked off in Indian administered Kashmir on Monday amid calls for a boycott of the vote by Kashmiri Muslim separatists. 10 constituencies are the first to take part in the seven-phase elections that will conclude on December 24.
A curfew-like situation prevailed in the Kashmir Valley Monday as a heavy deployment of police and paramilitary troops restricted the movement of people.
The deployment was made to prevent a march called by Kashmiri separatists as elections began in 10 of 87 constituencies. People were prevented from coming out of their homes in the Summer capital Srinagar and major towns where elections were not taking place.
The elections come at a time when Kashmir has seen some of largest demonstrations against Indian rule in decades. Calls for marches are now met by curfews. In recent weeks more than two dozen separatist leaders have been taken unto custody under the Public Safety Act that allows for detentions of up to two years without any trial.
Separatists have rejected the elections. Altaf Ahmad is an activist of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.
"The whole of Kashmir nation is standing against these elections, because these elections are not as India claims in the United Nations, that people of Kashmir are representing themselves in these elections, that this is the self determination," he said.
Officials said up to 55 percent of voters turned out for the election despite the boycott call and bad weather. In many areas people were seen queuing up outside polling booths.
A human rights activist, Pervez Imroz of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society was arrested in Bandipora town while he was part of an Independent election monitoring group. Imroz's associate Khurram Pervez told VOA that police beat up Imroz along with two of his associates.
"In Bandipora our President Mr. Pervez Imroz, he along with some activists from outside were witnessing a protest demonstration. There were many media men [who] were also witnessing the demonstration. And police came and started beating Mr Pervez and later they arrested Mr Pervez along with two local volunteers," he said.
Authorities had no immediate comment on the reports.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in majority Muslim Kashmir, where most people favor independence from India or a merger with Pakistan. The region is divided between the two countries and both claim it in its entirety.