The ongoing Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir threw up an interesting result on Monday when a Kashmiri Pandit woman was elected Sarpanch in a Muslim-dominated village in north Kashmir.
The 52-year-old Aasha Jee defeated Sarwa Begum by 11 votes in Wussan village in Kunzar block on the Srinagar-Gulmarg road. Of the 98 votes polled, Ms. Aasha won 54 and Ms. Sarwa Begum 43.While thousands of Kashmiri Pandit families migrated from Kashmir in early 1990 after the outbreak of militancy, a few thousand chose to stay back. Ms. Aasha's family is one of four such in Wussan.
Her victory sends a refreshing message to the outside world. After the results, both Muslims and Pandits celebrated jointly stating, “This is enough proof that ‘Kashmiriyat' is still alive in Kashmir.”
She gave full credit to the Muslim population for her victory. Sitting in her modest house in Kunzar, she has been receiving guests from the neighbouring villages and the media.
Flanked by her husband, Radha Krishan, and two sons, Ms. Aasha said: “They [Muslims] voted for me and reposed faith in me. My endeavour will be to meet their expectations, but the government should support us”. She sought to send a message to Pandits living outside that there was no threat to their lives here.
With large participation of people in panchayat elections, Ms. Aasha was encouraged by the local headman, Abdul Hamid Wani. “He [Mr. Wani] was instrumental in my election” she said.
Asked whether she was scared to contest, she said: “I am a firm believer in destiny. Life and death is in the hands of God and a person dies only once. If I die for truth and following the right path, I will have no regrets.” For locals like Mr. Wani it did not matter who got elected. “We live in complete harmony. It is important to see that a genuine person who works for development is elected,” he said.
The defeated candidate Ms. Sarwa Begum wished her success and promised cooperation.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah endorsed Ms. Aasha's win as a sign of “hope for the Valley and Kashmiriyat. We didn't see whether she is a Muslim or non-Muslim. We gave her preference over Muslim candidates,” he wrote on Twitter quoting local residents.
Mr. Abdullah said: “Regardless of what the extremist elements of both sides want the world to believe, there is still hope for the Valley and Kashmiriyat.”
The last panchayat polls in the Valley were held in 2001. The government is now contemplating holding elections to various municipal corporations and committees in the urban areas. Officials said 2,000 sarpanches and more than 15,000 panches have been elected in 15,000 constituencies across the State.
The three-month-long process will culminate on June 19.