GANDERBAL (Held Kashmir) - Police in Indian-administered Kashmir fired tear gas to disperse pro-independence demonstrators protesting against the ongoing state assembly elections in the disputed Himalayan region. The protest was held on Tuesday in Held Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar where thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police officers were patrolling near polling stations.

People in Kashmir went to the polling stations on Tuesday morning to cast their ballots in assembly elections in the Indian-occupied disputed region amid a boycott by pro-independence and opposition groups. Shutdown was also observed in Gandarbal and Bandipora districts during the first round of sham elections in the twin districts. Call for the strike was given by the veteran Hurriyet leader, Syed Ali Gilani , All Parties Hurriyet Conference and Hurriyet Conference Jammu and Kashmir. Clashes were reported when scores of youth shouting anti-election and pro-freedom slogans took to the streets at the main chowk in Hajin area of Bandipora. Two blasts were also heard in Bandipora just minutes after the polling started in the district. However, no casualties were reported.

Anti-Indian groups say the elections are an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.

In another development, hundreds of Kashmiri refugees held a march in the Azad Kashmir on Tuesday to condemn the elections. The demonstrators chanted slogans denouncing India for what they called the lack of freedom in the region and urged New Delhi to end its oppression against Kashmiris.

As many as 1,000 protesters in Muzaffarabad condemned the elections in Indian-occupied Kashmir as fraudulent.

"As the Kashmiris took up weapons against India after the farce elections in Kashmir in 1987, God willing they will again forcefully resist India and finally bury them (the Indian troops)," said Syed Shaheen Shah, one of the protesters.

Some past polls in Indian Held Kashmir have been marred by low turnout and violent clashes with security forces. A boycott by Muslim voters would play to the BJP's advantage, giving the vote of Kashmir's Hindu minority more importance.

However, Held Kashmir’s election commission claimed that turnout was 70 percent across the region and was likely to rise with voters still queuing as stations closed. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party made a serious bid for power in the tense Muslim-majority state. "The polls in phase-one have gone off absolutely peacefully without any untoward incident," deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi told reporters, adding a woman said to be 121-years-old was among those casting ballots. Thousands of soldiers had been deployed in and around polling stations.

Most Kashmiri leaders have either been arrested or confined to their houses in the lead-up to the election, while police have also detained dozens of youths, authorities revealed.

Held Jammu and Kashmir will vote in five phases, with results due on December 23.

Voters lined up in 15 heavily guarded constituencies in the first stage of staggered elections.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is staging a bold attempt to seize control of the Jammu and Kashmir state's 87-member assembly, a move unthinkable until very recently.

"The time is ripe for political change here," Modi told a rally at the weekend, promising to turn a region of snow-clad mountains and gushing streams into a top tourist destination.

The party has traditionally had no base in the Kashmir Valley, where residents' resentment against Indian rule runs high. About a dozen Kashmiri groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or for its merger with Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died.

The first phase of elections was also being held Tuesday in the insurgency-racked and impoverished central state of Jharkhand, where the BJP is also attempting to seize power.

Army and police have been deployed in force at polling stations amid fears of attacks from Maoists who have long been fighting authorities for land, jobs and other rights for poor tribal groups in a conflict that has cost thousands of lives.