Srinagar, Sept. 25: When militants killed Nowpora Jageer village’s deputy sarpanch Mohammad Shafi Teli on Sunday evening, sarpanch Mohammad Maqbool Lone called a newspaper office to announce his resignation before fleeing home in the dead of night.
Early Monday he left his village at Baramulla district in north Kashmir to a “far-off place 100 miles from his home” for fear of being targeted by the militants.
“I didn’t feel safe at home. I was too scared. That is why I left my home,” Lone, who has a masters in history and retired as a zonal education officer in the Jammu and Kashmir government some years back, told The Telegraph over phone from an undisclosed location.
His seven panches, along with dozens others from the adjoining villages, followed suit and rushed to newspaper offices in Srinagar on Monday to announce their dissociation from politics through paid advertisements.
Local newspaper pages were filled with such advertisements yesterday, in a throwback to 1990 when mainstream politics was literally silenced by targeted attacks on pro-India politicians. Hundreds of political activists, out of “fear” of militants or “love” for the pro-Azaadi sentiment prevailing then, dissociated themselves from pro-India politics through such advertisements — copies of which served as a certificate for years that they no longer are with the “Indian parties”.
It took mainstream politicians years and hundreds of deaths to recover from that shock.
A similar story is being played in Nowpora Jageer and many villages across Kashmir following a spate of killings of panchayat members. At risk is the fate of an election for grassroots democracy in J&K held last year. It was the biggest such exercise in the history of rural polls in the state and witnessed a record 80 per cent participation. Around 34,000 representatives were elected and the Omar Abdullah government is counting it as the biggest achievement of its four-year-old rule.
Police sources said nine village representatives have lost their lives to militant attacks since last year’s election, most of them in last few months, prompting hundreds to put in their papers.
Shattered by the death of Teli and before him that of sarpanch Ghulam Mohammad Yatoo in neighbouring Palhalan village a fortnight back, the village representatives are living in fear.
“Our house descended into chaos after we heard of the death of Teli. My daughter-in-law, who is also a panch, started crying due to fear. My wife developed chest pain and I left my home in the night to take refuge in some other house”, Abdul Ahad Lone, a deputy sarpanch of another halqa (adjoining village) of Nowpora who too resigned from his post yesterday, said.
“We contested the polls so that we can help improve the condition of our villages. But we got nothing in return. We don’t have any security, enjoy very little powers and get no monetary benefit. So why sacricfice our lives?” he asked.
Fear is not the only reason behind these resignations. Shafiq Mir, who heads a body of panchayat members, in J&Ksaid panchayats are powerless institutions in the state.
“Ministers and bureaucrats are unwilling to share their power with elected members of the panchayats,” he said.
The killings and resignations have rattled the state government. Official sources said it was not possible for the government to provide security to thousands of panchayat members.
Valley police chief S.M. Sahai, however, said the police will try to ensure their safety. “The assault on the elected representatives of the people will be considered an assault on the will of the people, and police will take whatever it takes to provide them all possible security, he said.