Early Times Report
Bhalessa (J&K), Nov 28: A resident of the remote Kota Top village, situated over 11,000 feet in Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda district, 103-year-old Zaitona Bibi on Saturday said she had never missed casting her vote since 1957 and this District Development Council (DDC) election was no different.
Helped by her 24-year-old great-granddaughter Rabia Bano, Zaitona braved cold winds to trek to the Gujjar Basti polling station in Kharangal panchayat, around a kilometre from her house, to vote in the election.
“My vote was for the development of tribals of this belt who are facing hardships. They are socially, educationally, economically and politically backward,” said Zaitona after returning from the polling station, which is located at 11,400 feet on the Bhalessa mountain ranges.
Zaitona, who belongs to the Gujjar tribe, has 14 grandchildren and 56 great-grandchildren, and 110 members of her family are eligible voters. “We casted our vote in this poll for the development of the area,” she said.
“For the past 63 years, I have never missed a single occasion to vote. Ever since I started voting, I made sure I do not miss a single poll. I have voted in all elections since,” said Zaitona.
The district administration had made arrangements for the centenarian to help her reach Gujjar Basti, but Zaitona, according to 24-year-old Bano, climbed the steep path to the polling station without her walking stick, only occasionally asking for support.
The centenarian, along with other elderly voters, was asked to stay back home in view of the Covid pandemic, but taking all precautions, like wearing a mask, she went to Gujjar Basti, her family members said.
Zaitona said even threats by militants in the past could not deter her from exercising her franchise. “My faith is in democracy,” she said.
She, however, rued, “Not much has changed in the past seven decades in our area inhabited by thousands who earn their livelihood through cattle rearing.” Life continues to be difficult for the inhabitants of this mountainous belt, said Zaitona, hoping strengthening of the grassroot democracy would bring development.
“We need potable water and good roads here… many of our villages remain unconnected. We need good hospitals,” she said.