How Militants, Govt Killed The Panchayati Raj In Kashmir

11 May 2014
Firstpost
Sameer Yasir

Srinagar: Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, 65, a National Conference Sarpanch (village headman) stood near a grocery shop in Wanpoh village in Kulgam district of south Kashmir, when suspected militants fired at him injuring him critically. He died, while being taken to the hospital. Police in Kashmir said, Bhat was in conversation with villagers in front of a grocery shop, when he was shot. He was being shifted to a hospital in Srinagar for treatment, when he succumbed to his injuries en route. That was on 8 May. The systematic killings of members of Panchayat institution has triggered a mass wave of resignation by Sarpanches and Panches in south Kashmir. On Saturday, 161 village heads, including 49 Sarpanches, 111 Panches and one Deputy Sarpanch in south Kashmir's three districts declared their resignation using a public address system. A Congress Block president from southern town of Qazigund also submitted his resignation, as attacks on the members of local bodies renewed recently. 'Both the Central and State government used us for their own end. These elections were to serve people, they were fought on non-party basis and on local issues. They had nothing to do with 'Kashmir issue',' Mohd Razak Khan, a Sarpanch from Saidpora village of Shopian, after resigning from his post, told Firstpost. In South Kashmir's Pulwama district 51 village heads resigned from their posts, similarly five village representatives from Saidpora areas of Shopian district declared their resignation. In Anantnag district, at least 24 village heads resigned from their posts. Two days before the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency went to polls, on 21 April, unidentified gunmen killed a Congress Sarpanch and his son in South Kashmir's Tral village, which was followed by mass resignation of Sarpanchs and Panchs. On 19 April, a People Democratic Party activist and headman was also killed, outside his home in Awantipora. Ever since the elections were held for the institution of Panchyat in Jammu and Kashmir in 2011, after a gap of over two decades, members of the local bodies have been attacked throughout. The Sarpanches and Panches have been demanding individual security, a demand turned down by the state government, which says it is almost impossible to provide security to all of them. 'Since April 2011, 9 Sarpanches have been already killed. The elections were held in April 2011, the killings started in 2012.' Shafiq Mir, Chairman of All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, an organisation of elected Sarpanches, told Firstpost on phone from Jammu. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has 4128 Panchayats spread across 22 districts and a total of 33,485 Panchayat members. While 17,912 Panchayat members are in Kashmir division, Jammu has 15,628 Sarpanches and Panches. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has 4128 Panchayats spread across 22 districts and a total of 33,485 Panchayat members. While 17,912 Panchayat members are in Kashmir division, Jammu has 15,628 Sarpanches and Panches. The election to Panchayati Raj and its elected representatives were touted to usher in a new era of democracy in state. Mir said soon after the conclusion of these elections government of Jammu and Kashmir and Government of India started linking these elections with 'Kashmir issue,'and a slap on the face of separatists. An overwhelming 83 percent voter turnout was recorded in these elections, held in the aftermath of 2010 summer unrest across the Valley. 'Interestingly, the attacks on Panchayat leaders started soon after they came on streets for empowerment. Militants first pasted posters in public places threatening Panchayat members either to resign from their posts or to face the consequences,' Mir said. The threatening posters, Mir believes, were followed by the killing of first Sarpanch, Ghulam Mohammad Dar, by unidentified gunmen in Kulgam district of South Kashmir on 27 February 2012. That was the first killing of any Sarpach in Kashmir valley in the same village, where the ninth Sarpnach was killed on Thursday. About two thousand Sarpanches and Panches, including a women Panch who was shot in eye by suspected militants in Sopore, have been injured. Reason, says Mir, was the realisation by militant groups of the elected grass route workers of becoming a threat, after separatists organisations started dubbing them as agents of Indian government on ground. 'When we started talking about empowerment of Panchayats threat posters appeared. The posters said we carried forward the massage of India, which was not the case. It was for local issues. Killing us won't help Kashmir cause.' Mir said. For the ruling Omar Abdullah government it was, and remains the most biggest challenge: providing security to the members is an impossible task. 'We are not asking for security, we are aware that it is not possible to provide security to every individual member. But government has to protect its own citizens. In three years, we have lost nine members. Both militants and the State government seems to be on the same page. Before killing them physically, the idea of Panchayats was killed in a systematic manner by the government itself,' says Mir. The local rural body elections were held in the state of Jammu and Kashmir under its own PRI Act 1989 in 2011 due to which about 33000 Panchayat members came in to being with 4,145 Sarpanches and about 29000 Panches. No one among the militants or separatists organisations had objected to the elections. But the situation has changed drastically since then as today close to 90 percent Panchayat members have resigned or have gone underground in Kashmir valley.