and Panchayat Raj
After a big gap of 23 years, when the Panchayat elections were
held in Jammu and Kashmir early last year, most of the villagers living
in the far flung areas of the troubled state were happy for they knew the
importance of grass root level democracy. Defying all kinds of militants’
threat, they came out and participated in the Panchayat polls thus electing
their representatives for 2,700 Panchayat in Jammu and Kashmir.
In these elections, Master Gyasuddin, 72, a renowned educationist
and social worker living in a small hamlet of Sarna, situated in the mountainous
region of Doda district in Jammu, who was respected by both the communities
alike, became the only Sarpanch of Bhaderwah tehsil who got elected unopposed.
However, Sarpanch Master Gyas-ud-din was recently brutally killed by
suspected ultras at his native village Sarna, 3 kilometres from Doda when
they fired two bursts of AK-47 from point blank range into his chest killing
him on the spot. His son Sajjad Ahmed informed that a bearded gunman who
posed as SOG man entered their house and asked the whereabouts of his father.
Sensing trouble, Sajjad told him that his father was out of station and
would return only the next day. After hearing this the gunman left the
house yet after telling Sajjad that he would come again.
As soon as he left, Sajjad accompanied by his eldest brother Ghulam
Mustafa went to their father in a nearby house to inform him. The moment
they entered the house, three gunmen appeared on the spot and took Sarpanch
along with them. After some time, hearing some gun-shot, Sajjad and his
brothers ran towards nearby paddy fields, 50 metres from their house and
found their father in a pool of blood.
However, this is not the first killing of elected Panches or Sarpanches
in J&K. Many have fallen pray to terrorists’ bullets in the past one
year. But with first phase of elections over in the state and two more
Sarpanches getting killed by the ultras on the eve of first phase of polling
on 15 September, panic and fear has further gripped hundreds of Sarpanches
elected in various parts of Jammu region following a sudden spurt in the
killing of these elected representatives in the past few days. Their only
fault is that they had dared to contest Panchayat elections.
Though in the past one year, the terrorists have killed about 40 Sarpanches
and Panches in the troubled state who had dared to defy the militants diktats
of not contesting the Panchayat elections which were held in the state
after a big gap of 23 years, what has sacred most of these elected representatives
is the fact that not only there has been a sudden increase in their killings,
but valley’s largest militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen has also threatened
them to either resign from their posts or face the punishment. Sarpanches
and Panches were being targeted by the terrorists as they had refused to
resign on the dictates of the terrorists. Besides, in run-up to the elections
in Doda, these Sarpanches fear more threat to their lives as the ultras
want to scare away the prospective candidates for the assembly polls.
Banned militant organization, Hizbul Mujahideen has issued a threat
to Sarpanches of Gundoh tehsil of Doda district that they should quit their
posts or else face the consequences. Hizb militants pasted notices on the
walls of the local mosque telling the sarpanches that if they did not pay
heed to the threat, they would have to face dire consequences. Majority
of Sarpanches in Jammu region are either from National Conference of from
Congress and many of them feel that their lives are in danger.
Even the Indian army posted in various parts of Jammu region apprehend
more such killings in the run up to the assembly polls.
“In the past few days, terrorists have killed 12 Sarpanches in Jammu
region and most of these belong to National Conference,”a top army officials
based at 16 Corps of Indian army at Nagrota told The Statesman adding that
they apprehend more such killings. However, he said that army is undertaking
operating to eliminate most of the ultras before the polls so as to provide
a violence-free atmosphere for the polls.
Recently, a meeting of 20 Sarpanches and Panches was held under the
leadership of Shabir Khan, Sarpanch of Gatha Panchayat in Doda. In the
run-up to the assembly polls in the trouble district which has seen many
massacres in the past, worried Panchayat members held a meeting to decide
how to deal with the situation. A gathering of panches and sarpanches from
different parts of Bhaderwah Tehsil in Jammu and Kashmir discussed security
concerns, which have mounted after the killing of a sarpanch of Sarna village.
The meeting, attended by civil administration officials along with police
officers, paramilitary forces and the army, failed to evoke much response.
However, the Sarpanches and Panches are much scared. Many of them had
already submitted their resignation to the concerned authorities. Their
resignations were triggered off following the recent killing of Gyasuddin.
Criticizing the apathetic and irresponsible attitude of government in
providing security to the elected Sarpanches and apprehending similar fate,
sarpanches of the same district resigned fearing militant attacks on them
also. In the subsequent reaction at least five sarpanches of the adjoining
villages submitted their resignation to the concerned authorities.
Five Sarpanches of adjoining villages of Sarna identified as Talib Hussain,
Mir Hussain, Hidayat Ullah, Ali Khan and Inayat Ullah resigned from their
posts after getting a report of the killing of Sarna Sarpanch Jaisud Din.
Ten panches various Bhadarwah villages, including three sarpanches and
two of their deputies also resigned from their posts following threats
from suspected militants. They marched to the police station and after
tendering their resignations, sought police protection.
They have been identified as Shabbir Ahmad Khan of Gatha, Muhammad Yasin
of Thoba and Anchal Singh of Gursabi, (sarpanches); Ravinder Singh of Sadhna
and Abdul Gani Malik of Marsoo (naib sarpanches); and Riyaz Iqbal and Abdul
Majid of Gursabi, Muhammad Sharif Bhat and Muhammad Yousuf of Udharna and
Ghulam Qadir of Thoba (all panches).
The official sources told The Statesman that in 2001, more than 34
sarpanches were killed and during the past few days, the number has been
More than 12 sarpanches and panches have resigned out of fear, causing
a setback to the Panchayati Raj system which was revived after 23 years.There
are about 2,700 panchayat committees. Whenever the elections are completed,
the government has to renovate or reconstruct panchayat ghars. More than
60 per cent of the panchayat ghars have been destroyed since 1991 as part
of the militants' plan to derail the democratic process.
During the Lok Sabha elections in 1989, 1998 and 1999, and in the Assembly
poll in 1996, the militants had asked people to boycott the Panchayat elections.
However, the voting percentage indicated that the voters had ignored the
boycott call in the entire Jammu region. It was heeded to in some pockets
of Kashmir.The militants had targeted some candidates, forcing the government
to postpone the elections in some parts of the valley.
Even after the meeting more than dozen Panchayat members who had resigned,
after the killing refused to take back their resignation. According to
Mohd Sharif, sarpanch, "We will not talk unless the government looks into
our demands and provides us security."
Mohd Razaaq, Naib Sarpanch, Qas Brari Panchayat in Mendhar tehsil situated
close to the Line of Control whose house was gutted as he had dared to
contest Panchayat polls, told The Statesman that thought people are
scared , yet he would not resign from the post. “We are Gujjars and have
been nationalist throughout our lives and we are scared only of the Allah,”
he said alleging that many of the sarpanches and Panches had made compromised
and were hand in gloves with the militants. The civil administration is
now working on a plan to create more effective security zones
Last year after the Panchayat elections people here were rejoicing.
Now the mood has changed to that of fear and with the assembly elections
around the corner, the civil administration will really have to work hard
to rebuild the confidence of the people of this remote part of the state.
|Recent killings of Sarpanches/Panches in Jammu
*On 4 July 2002, Sarpanch of Changa village in Gundoh was shot dead
by unidentified militants. And it was on the same night, in the same locality,
militants planted explosives near the house of Mohammed Sharif Niyaz, former
minister and Congress chief. Sarpanches express concern over the threat
issued to them.
*On 5 July, the terrorists gunned down three civilians including a Sarpanch
in Gandoh area of Doda district .A group of unidentified terrorists gunned
down a Sarpanch Sher Mohd Rather son of Mohd Sultan in his house at village
Changa in Gandoh area of Doda .A total of four terrorists, all of whom
appeared to be locals, forced their entry into the residence of Sarpanch
and shot him dead from point blank range. All four terrorists fled away
after the killing.
*On 12 July , Sarpanch of Gandoh Panchayat was eliminated by the ultras.
*On 16 July, militants killed a sarpanch of Sarna area in Doda district
.The sarpanch, Gasyuddin, who was a retired head master, was kidnapped
from his house, and taken to an undisclosed place and killed. After the
incident, five sarpanches of Gandoh area resigned.
*Militant organisations in the Gandoh area threatened sarpanches and
panches to resign. Only a few days ago, a sarpanch, Sher Khan, was killed
*On 20 July, a Panch Mohd Afzal, was brutally tortured and then
beheaded by the terrorists. Police said a big group of terrorists intruded
into village Hill Tak under jurisdiction of Darhal police station and kidnapped
three persons including a Panch of the area. The terrorists whisked away
the hostages to a forest area where they were subjected to sustained questioning
and tortured brutally. After more than two hours of torture, the terrorists
beheaded two of them. Third hostage was also killed in the forests. Killings
of the Panch and two civilians sparked off tension in Hill Tak. Local people
protested against the killings when police parties visited the village.
*Terrorists gunned down a Panch, who was working as a private teacher,
at village Thupa, about seven kms from Bhaderwah in Doda district. He has
been identified as Ajit Kumar son of Hans Raj, a resident of Inharda, Gandoh.
Police said Ajit Kumar, a Panch from Halqa Chansar was working as a teacher
in a private school at village Kilotaran in Gandoh. He had been kidnapped
by the terrorists on July 7 when he was returning to his house from the
school at village Thupa.
Police said the Panch had been tortured in captivity and later beheaded
by the terrorists.
* Two more sarpanches killed in Rajouri/Udhampur on 15 September, 2002.