Kashmir Village Officials Refuse To Submit To Militant Threat

Kashmir Village Officials Refuse To Submit To Militant Threat

15 November 2012
Khabar South Asia
Rehman Aziz

Srinagar: From April through June of last year, Kashmiris went to the polls to elect representatives to local government councils, known as Panchayati Raj. The election, the first of its kind in three decades, was heralded as a milestone for democracy in Kashmir. But it provoked rage among insurgent groups, who responded by targeting local leaders sarpanches (elected village council chiefs) and panches (elected council members) for attack. Posters appeared in public places, warning the council members to resign or face dire consequences. Since last year's vote, militants have slain three sarpanches in a bid to spread fear among the 34,000 elected representatives. Unidentified gunmen shot dead an elected official in Kulgam district of south Kashmir in February. Two sarpanches were shot dead in separate incidents in north Kashmir in September. But the insurgents' terror campaign failed not only to deter the elected officials but also threatened to isolate them from ordinary Kashmiris, who see democratic institutions as beneficial. 'Killing of sarpanches is a gross human rights violation. For accomplishment of their own vested interests, the perpetrators want to scuttle the process of peace and development in Kashmir,' said a teacher from Handwara, in north Kashmir, who declined to be named for safety reasons. Dividends of democracy After more than two decades of turbulence, many have welcomed the Panchayati Raj as a path to development. 'Grassroots governance can only bring overall development- particularly in Kashmir villages. We have seen enough violence and bloodshed for over two decades of insurgency,' Riyaz Ahmad, a trader in Delina, 6km from Baramulla, told Khabar South Asia. Indeed, development has already picked up its pace as the representatives started working, especially in Kashmir's neglected and insurgency-scarred remote villages. Fourteen government departments have disbursed around Rs 30 lakhs ($54,800) to Panchayats for development projects since April, according to Sajad Ahmad Qadiri, District Panchayat Officer of Baramulla. 'Developmental works in remote areas of the district are going on at a good pace,' he told Khabar. 'People are satisfied with the working of Panchayats,' Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police for north Kashmir Rajesh Kumar told Khabar. 'They want development in their areas and overwhelming support to local leaders has proved significant.' A failed campaign of desperation Authorities say that despite the brutality shown by the militants, their campaign of intimidation has not proved a success. State police are taking steps to deal with fear among Panchayat members. Security has been beefed up in sensitive areas, especially north Kashmir. 'Necessary steps have been taken to ensure safety of Panchayat members,' DIG Kumar said. 'We are closely monitoring the situation, and it has improved.' For additional security, state authorities have also directed paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Army troops to increase patrols in sensitive areas. Initially, some 630 elected representatives said they would resign in the face of insurgent threats. But following security assurances from state authorities, only 140 have actually quit to date. Beefed up security has led to the resumption of development work after a brief lull. 'Our village has now the facilities of water supply and metallic link roads. We will get a health centre set up in near future,' said Ashiq Hussain, a student from Bakiakar in north Kashmir. 'Panchayats are once again working as efficiently as before,' Qadiri, the district Panchayat official, said.