Srinagar: Two women born in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), who came to Kashmir after marrying former militants, have won Panchayat elections in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.
The victory of Dilshada Begum and Arifa Begum, both in their mid-thirties, is extraordinary and surprising in the restive Kashmir where militant threat looms large and which witnessed a very low voter turnout in the recent civic elections.
When Dilshada entered village Pringroo for the first time in June 2011, she was overwhelmed with the new world around her. Born in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan controlled Kashmir, and brought up in Rawalpanidi in Pakistan's Punjab province, Dilshada married Mohammad Yousuf Bhat in June 2004.
Bhat had crossed over the LoC in 90s to undergo arms training like hundreds of other Kashmiri youngsters. He settled there and started a new life. But his yearning for home didn’t end and after seven years of living in Rawalpindi, he found a ray of hope when the J&K government announced rehabilitation policy for the militants.
Militants who had crossed the LoC were given the option of returning to their homes and start a normal life. The policy was introduced by the then chief minister Omar Abdullah.
Dilshada, with her husband and three kids, came to Kashmir through Nepal. “In June 2012, we came to Kashmir and started new life. It was new culture for me and I had to face a lot of problems to get adjusted here but I was happy to come to Kashmir,” Dilsada told News18 over phone.
Her husband started a small grocery shop in the village. When the Panchayat elections were announced in the state, Dilshada’s neighbours insisted that she contest as she is now an Indian citizen. Dilshada, now a mother of five, contested and won uncontested.
Similar is the story of 35-year-old Arifa. Hailing from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan controlled Kashmir, Arifa married Ghulam Mohammad Mir, who had also crossed the LoC for arms training.
The couple came back to Kashmir in 2010 via Nepal and settled in Mir’s ancestral village Khumriyal in frontier district of Kupwara.
Mir works as a driver and Arifa contested the polls from a BJP ticket. She had submitted her nomination papers for both Panch as well as Sarpanch wards in Khumriyal-B. No nominations were filed against her and she has been declared elected unopposed for both Panch and Sarpanch wards, an official confirmed.
In the forthcoming panchayat polls across the Valley, 40 Sarpanch, 669 Panch ward have been declared winners uncontested in northern Kashmir’s Kupwara.
Officials said that in 166 Sarpanch Halqas across Kupwara, 459 candidates had filed their nominations for the first three phases, among which 40 candidates won unopposed. “90 forms were rejected at the earnest which took the total score to 329 Sarpanch in poll fray,” the official said.
“While as there are 460 Panch Halqa up to the third phase, in which 669 candidates have won their seats unopposed, 259 forms were rejected however there are 161 panch Halqa vacant, taking total toll of 1903 candidates in poll fray in forthcoming panchayat polls,” the official added.
(The author is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist. Views are personal.)