Have the people of Kashmir spoken?
By Khwaja Parvez Dilbar, Kupwara, J&K
The massive turnout in the recently concluded Panchayati Raj elections in J&K is not only a reiteration of the belief in participatory democracy in the troubled region but equally a message to all the forces that have been opposing the strengthening of the process and institutions. What was equally noteworthy has been the large number of young people who stood for elections. Together these two trends constitute what could be statement from a region that has seen turmoil and violence and immense suffering for its people. Is the tide turning in Kashmir? Perhaps making a sweeping statement would not be apt at this stage but the intent and aspirations of the people to find solutions through strengthening local self-governance is evident.
The mandate is for the Panchayati Raj as a system and not for specific political parties. This means a mandate, even sans politics of a more responsive administration to find solutions to everyday problems at the local level. The queues of women in their hijab, men women in their phirans, the elderly, the disabled are all looking for answers from the administration, from the system of governance.
Let us not for a moment dismiss the fact that the region has been wracked by militancy for over two decades. Today the ferociousness and threat to the common people seems to have stemmed, but it has doubtless taken a toll. On human beings who have been killed or seen loved ones falling prey to the violence, of homes uprooted, children being orphaned, women widowed, the elderly bereft of support and care of their children. Militancy has also prevented the processes of governance and development from taking root in the region and there are large swathes of rural Kashmir, which remain neglected, this is what people through the Panchayati Raj elections are seeking to change and this is what needs to be respected and addressed.
The people of Kashmir are seeking to emerge from a troubled past to establish lives of security and peace. The border areas have been particularly vulnerable, affected. ‘Dardpora’ a village, 25 km from Kupwara district headquarters on the Indo-Pak border is one such, nestled amongst the serene beauty of the mountains but hiding an ugly reality. This village has faced the brunt of militancy being in a strategic and thus highly sensitive zone with the ever-present threat of cross-border infiltration always looming large. Ever since the start of militancy in the Valley, it has lived under the shadow of crossfire, has lost countless men to the violence and several others who have been injured, often leading to disability.
Predictably, it has suffered from lack of development, of effective governance. The condition of roads is in shambles. Health facilities are abysmal with no government doctor or Health Centre here. The sick and the dying need to be taken to Kralpura block or else the district headquarters at Kupwara. This gets difficult for people in the absence of reliable public transport. The roads being as they are, the journey can prove excruciating, sometimes even fatal for the sick. Is this then what the lives of people of our border areas have to live with? Lives compromised by fear of attack at any time but also by the near absence of development. .
Another sore point is the laggard PDS. Many villages in this mountainous region are situated ‘inconveniently’. Several PDS outlets situated in the heights simply do not function. The grain does not reach them. It normally is off-loaded at a ‘convenient’ point and the onus falls on the villagers to make that arduous trek to fetch it to their homes higher up or deeper into the mountains. The situation gets compounded during the winter months when a blanket of snow descends on the valley.
According to Ghulam Mohiuddin, the sarpanch of the village, there is no dearth of schemes and programmes of both the Central and state governments. The lack of implementation is the bane of the region. There is also a lack of coordination amongst the officials and there is inertia to address the concerns of the people even after it has been brought to their notice.
A poet and a thinker in the region, Mir Darpoori strikes a note of pathos when he notes that his village, Dardpora has seen immense suffering being close to the border. everyday problems at the local level This is the ‘dard’( pain) of Dardpora, referred in a poignant reminder of the grim reality as the ‘village of widows’. It is then indeed a difficult life for many of these women who lose their husbands or then have to look after them if they are injured or even disabled. Life is not kind and the possibilities in the area to then seek a source of income and live a decent life is diminished. The land does not lend itself well to agriculture, water sources are severely constrained. Rearing livestock seems to be the only other option here, but at best it can contribute to a family income, not provide for it entirely. Many of the women of Dardpora are forced to beg for a living. This loss of dignity, of a life that they knew is painful.
The question the people of Kashmir are asking is if this can be prevented or at any rate mitigated? Just because these people live in a strategically sensitive region, does it mean that they should not be provided for? What is particularly painful is the spectre of violence marring the young generation which has grown up seeing very little else. Yet they have dreams and aspirations of a life of peace, of new opportunities, of an end to this cycle of violence, which keeps them and their families on the edge all the time.
The woes of Dardpora are not it’s alone. There are countless such villages dotting the LoC which have similar stories. All with its own mix of cross-border tensions and a lack of development. The people of Kashmir seem to have seen the recently held Panchayat election to strengthen the latter, their developmental needs. In the midst of their lives affected by the turmoil, they seek a system of governance, which works to better their daily lives, provide them support for their foundational needs. This is what the elected representatives of the Panchayati Raj system in J&K, indeed the entire administrative machinery in the state need to be responsive to.