Elections

From the same town, different fates of Kashmir’s three Sarpanchs  

South Kashmir’s Kakapora area has the story of three Sarpanchs – dead, former and active. One was gunned down by the unidentified gunmen, the other had to give up after “constant humiliation and non-cooperation” from the administration, while, another kept his head down and “delivered” despite hailing from a village where one of the most high profile Pakistani militants, Abu Qasim and Abu Dujana, were active.

When in 2011, the Panchayat elections were introduced in the region after nearly about four decades, the valley was still recovering from the 2010 uprising which claimed 120 lives. The same year, Abu Dujana had infiltrated from the Gilgit area of Pakistan administered Kashmir.

Dujana shot to fame soon after he succeeded Abu Qasim as LeT’s top commander, who died in October 2015. The “mastermind” of the Udhampur attack, Dujana was known for slipping out of cordons and gunfights, at least a dozen times. In his 7-year-long tenure, while Dujana became one of the longest surviving militants, he reportedly got married to a local girl from Kakapora’s Hakripora. Thus, the village became Dujana’s base, until sealing his fate there in a gunfight with the armed forces in August 2017.

Just a few houses away from where Dujana’s wife resides, lives Bashir Ahmad Malik, who also happens to be the Sarpanch (village head) of the village – Hakripora. Bashir believes he must have “obviously” been on the radar of the militants, yet, no one ever threatened him.

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“Because maybe, my only aim was to work for the people of my village,” says Bashir, who won in 2011 with about 750 votes and has once again emerged victorious in the on-going elections. “I had nothing to do with the army and nor the militants. It had always been with the people, still is, and will forever be.” That is why Bashir thinks the militants had a “soft corner” for him.

Bashir Ahmad Malik.

Other than Hakripora, Bashir also has Narbal and Gandhibagh under him. He claims to have spent about Rs 4 crores in his constituencies, where his major highlight was developing five roads that now easily connect three villages.

When Bashir, a science graduate, saw his village kids travel a distance of about 3 kms every day to go the school in the neighbouring hamlet, he decided to donate his ancestral land worth Rs 14 lakhs to the education department. Today, on that land, a primary school has been built.

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He also made the arrangement of bore-wells that now gives water to 25 houses, including the village’s Jamia Masjid.

“I am sure militants must have talked to the villagers before coming to me, and I can blindly say, not one would have given a negative feedback,” he says, further asking: “You tell me, have I done anything wrong?”

School built on the ancestral land of Malik.

Nazir Ahmad Dar, elder brother of Fayaz Ahmad Dar – a former Sarpanch who was killed by unidentified gunmen on March 13, last year, asks a similar question.

“Was Fayaz killed because he selflessly worked for the people? Is that a crime?” Nazir asks. “Fayaz introduced the villagers to so many Centre-sponsored schemes. He built toilets, improved roads, and what not. Yet, he was killed. What for? That we still don’t know.”

It was 6:00 in the morning when three masked men, each holding an AK-47 knocked on Fayaz’s door. Engrossed in sleep, when it took him a little longer than usual for him to get up and greet the visitors, the unknown men kicked down the wooden door and entered inside. “Dressed as army men, they told Fayaz there’s a Cordon and they want him to come and show the way to the house where militants are hiding,” recalls wife, Shaheena Akhtar. “He did so.”

When Fayaz did not return after about ten minutes, Shaheena called Nazir and informed him about the incident. As per the eyewitnesses, Fayaz was then forcefully put into a van that was waiting just outside the village entrance. Two hours later, his bullet-ridden body was found lying at Chew-Kalan village, some nine kilometers from where he was abducted.

Pertinent to mention, Fayaz was a National Conference party worker and also the uncle of former LeT militant Rayees Ahmad. He is now survived by his wife and two small kids.

The reason behind Fayaz’s killing still remains a mystery. His elder brother Nazir, who is a driver by profession, now has to look after the left-behind family and their 75-year-old ailing mother.

Election Certificate of Fayaz Ahmad Dar.

As compensation, the government has agreed to pay Rs 3 lakh to the family, which, they rejected. Nazir has been demanding a job for Shaheena to look after her two sons who study in class 4 and class 9 respectively. But, the government says “illiterate” Shaheena isn’t fit to be posted in any of the departments.

“We have really lost all hope,” says Nazir. “Every time we have knocked the government’s door, we have only returned with disappointment.”

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So has Nazir Ahmad Shaikh, another former Sarpanch from Kakapora’s Laroo village, who claims to have continuously faced “insults” from the administration’s end. When 44-year-old Nazir had won during the 2011 elections with about 100 votes, his villagers had high hopes from him. But, he could not even deliver “10 percent” of what he had planned.

Nazir says his village Laroo hasn’t seen any development since the 1970s, when, for the first time ever the villagers were introduced to electricity. “Since then, the same poles, the same overhead wires and the same voltage transformers and regulators are in use,” he claims.

And hence, improving the power efficiency of his village became his key goal. He pitched the administration to install a new transformer, but in response, he only faced “disappointment”.

Recalling his meeting with the then DC Pulwama, Manzoor Ahmad Lone in 2013, he narrates: “After getting the permission from the MLA to install a new transformer, we went to the DC office for his final nod. It was a matter of about say Rs 2 lakhs. But for that, I was not even given permission to meet the officer in person.”

While Nazir was waiting outside the office, he claims the DC said on phone: “Tumhe bhi sarpancho ki tarah 500 rupaye me bikneki aadat hogayi hai kya” (Have you also started selling yourself for mere Rs 500 like these sarpanchs?)

Even now, the village runs on the same old transformer.

Nazir Ahmad Shaikh.

The 2014 floods had damaged several trees that were also used as electric poles. Although post the calamity, the administration had raised the new ones, the work was left incomplete with no overhead wires. Four years have passed by and the situation still remains the same.

Nazir had raised the issue with the Power Development Department (PDD) and once again, was left red-faced. “Not a single department cooperated with me and in the end, I could do literally nothing for my village.”

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Despite his cousin being an anti-India rebel – Ghulam Mohiuddin Shaikh, killed in a gunfight in 1994 – Nazir decided to contest in the 2011 elections. Now, his few fellow villagers, who run high on pro-azadi sentiments, look at him with disgrace for having been associated with the Indian state.

“Had the government cooperated and allowed me to work, maybe, this would not have been the case today,” believes Nazir. “I literally feel ashamed when people remember me as a former Sarpanch.”

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