Why Kashmir’s Grassroots Leaders Are Feeling Trapped & Suppressed
Panches, municipal councillors are the only elected persons in the Valley and they’re being targeted by militants.
Stifled. That’s the way many grassroots elected representatives in Kashmir are feeling. Over the past few days, they have been taken to safe places that have been designated for them in the wake of a series of attacks on panches, particularly of the BJP.
Initially, BJP panches and municipal and block-level councillors were placed in such safe places at the very beginning of the month. Then, last Friday, many non-BJP representatives too were put in such places.
Several hundreds of them are in each of two such safe locations at different corners of the Valley. Several others have been kept in other locations in different parts of the Valley.
In total, a very large number have been taken into protection, including some unelected grassroots political workers.
Deep Resentment Among Kashmir’s Grassroots Politicians
Many of those who have been thus confined are deeply resentful.
Some of them say they have been made to feel almost like prisoners. One got into an argument with a CRPF guard who was trying to prevent him from talking to someone across the fence around the place where he has been kept.
Many of them were taken by surprise—just asked to go to their local police stations for some important information before being taken directly from there to the safe location.
In this process, many of them did not get a chance to pick up clothes or even a tooth brush. At least at one location, the grassroots politicians had slept since 7 August in the same clothes that they wear through each day.
Some of them were able to persuade security men to buy such basics as tooth brushes and paste for them from nearby shops, but others had not even carried money when they were called to the police station.
- Over the past few days, many grassroots elected representatives in Kashmir have been taken to safe places that have been designated for them in the wake of a series of attacks on panches, particularly of the BJP.
- Many of them did not get a chance to pick up clothes or even a tooth brush.
- Some of them were able to persuade security men to buy such basics as tooth brushes and paste.
- The families of some of these grassroots politicians have also been taken to these safe places for their security.
The families of some of these grassroots politicians have also been taken to these safe places for their security. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of them are worried about the dangers that may stem from being gathered in such a large number.
In one place, meals were served to 40 or more persons together. At least one of them urged those who were making arrangements, to try and feed smaller groups of them separately, in order to be able to maintain social distancing.
Another problem at some of these safe places is that rumours abound. Every now and then, there is talk of some gunmen having been sighted somewhere, and some of them become fearful. “There is great uncertainty here,” remarked Abdul Majid, a municipal councillor in Ganderbal.
Plight Of Kashmir’s Grassroots Leaders: Between A Rock & A Hard Place
Some of them are deeply resentful about having been turned into targets after the administration failed to create a suitable environment for them to work for their voters. “They should not have held panchayat and municipal polls if they could not bring about peace,” said Sofi Arafat, a councillor who chairs the sub-committee on finance, planning, audit, and health in the Aishmuqam municipal committee.
Since panches and municipal councillors are currently the only elected persons in the Valley, they have become the face of the Indian State among the people—and the target of militants.
The worst part is that many of them are not even established politicians of long standing, but were lured to stand for elections in late 2018, when the government talked vociferously of empowering the grassroots and giving dynamism to ‘real democracy’ in what was still a full-fledged state.
Trapped: ‘At Least Let Me Do The Work For Which They Elected Me’
Many of them now feel trapped, as those hopes have been belied, and they have become targets without being able to claim credit for dynamic development.
“Humein bali ka bakra bana diya hai, (We have been made scapegoats)” complained one, adding that elected persons such as he have become targets because of what he described as “the fiasco of (Article) 370 and other moves” having been taken in haste, and not properly implemented or followed up.
“It’s as if they only wanted to tell their voters nationally that they have removed 370. They had no plan on what to do after removing it,” remarked one, requesting anonymity.
Some of the more intrepid among them have even asked to be allowed to go out and work among their people in areas where COVID-19 cases are on the rise. “At least let me do the work for which people elected me,” said Sofi Arafat, pointing out that public health is his responsibility in his town. However, he received no positive response to that request.
As things stand, these thousands can only wait and watch, at least until after the tensions that generally surround Independence Day in Kashmir.
(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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