Post-delivery, Naheed, a panch, rushes to exercise her franchise in J&K Council polls

On September 27, 2009, 20-year-old Rukhsana Kousar of upper Kalsi, a Class X dropout, did what no other woman — even a man, perhaps — had done ever since the insurgency broke out around her birth in 1989. With an axe, she hacked to death a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist Abu Usama, forcing two other armed intruders to flee from her home. She became the first National Bravery Award recipient from Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir.

Four months later, on Republic Day, Rukhsana and her younger brother, Aijaz, were conferred the country’s second highest gallantry award in peace time, Kirti Chakra, for combating what their uncle Waqalat Hussain and aunt Kulsum Parri had perceived as inevitable death. Nobody in the neighbourhood, less than 15 miles from the border with Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, would have imagined an unarmed teenage Pahari girl foiling a kidnapping, killing a militant, snatching away his AK-47 and forcing others in the group to retreat in shame.

On Monday last, 32-year-old Naheed Akhtar, a Class 9 dropout, who was elected as Panch from ward no.1 of her village panchayat Deri Dhara in April 2011, created another history of gallantry and women empowerment. Ten years after her marriage with Zulqadir and nine years after the birth of her first son, Haroon Qadir, Naheed was delivered of her second baby — this time a female — at the Rajouri District Hospital.

Just an hour after her normal delivery, Naheed demanded an ambulance — not for ferrying her back home but for carrying her to the polling station at the block headquarters, Manjakote — to cast her vote for National Conference candidate Shehnaz Ganai, a woman doctor-turned-politician.

On December 3, polling was held to fill four Legislative Council seats reserved for representatives of panchayat members in the 36-member House. Last time, this exercise had happened in 1981.

“They thought I was crazy,” Naheed said about the hospital staff, “but when I insisted resolutely, they provided the ambulance. It was quarter-to-five, and just 15 minutes short of closing time that I fulfilled my ambition to vote for the National Conference.”

Proud of her vote, which along with over 9,000 ballots resulted in Dr. Shehnaz’s victory, Naheed told The Hindu that she had never seen the candidate she was keen to vote for. “Our families have been ardent supporters of the NC. I did it for the party. Had I not voted, it would have been a loss for the party. So, I was keen I should make it at any cost.”

“I got anxious when I started feeling the labour pain in the morning. Thank god, it was a normal delivery at 11.30 a.m. After I felt better, I asked my husband to arrange for an ambulance or else take me to the polling station in a private taxi. Doctors were kind enough to make the arrangement,” Naheed added.

More than her son, Haroon, a Standard III student, she was concerned about her party’s victory.

Mr. Zulqadir, a schoolteacher, and the Sarpanch of Deri Dhara as also eight other Panchs of the Halqa, including two women, are all delighted over Naheed’s bold act. Everybody from her village in Manjakote to Rukhsana’s abandoned village in Thanamandi, on the 200 km Mughal Road from Srinagar to Rajouri, seems to be in high spirits. “I’m proud to be Naheed’s husband,” Mr. Zulqadir said.

Dr. Shehnaz, who spoke to The Hindu after she was declared elected on Thursday, said she herself belonged to the border district of Poonch, adjoining Rajouri. “I salute this woman’s courage and enthusiasm. It, in fact, justifies 33% reservation for women in all panchayats.