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Betrayed, 2011 symbol of Muslim-Pandit bonhomie stays away from civic polls

Srinagar, Nov 30: Projected as a symbol of Muslim-Pandit bonhomie during 2011 Panchayat elections, 59-year-old Asha, is one of the candidates who stayed away from the civic polls this time.

In 2011, Asha became the first Pandit woman to be elected as Panch in the valley.

Her success brought Wussan, a predominantly Muslim village in Kunzer block of Baramulla district, to spotlight, after she defeated a local Muslim woman Sarwa Begum by 11 votes.

With her victory, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah couldn’t hold his excitement and described her as a sign of “hope for the valley and Kashmiriyat”.

Eight years down the line, Asha who works in a local school, regrets her 2011 decision, citing government’s “betrayal to Panchs”.

“In 2011, they (government) only gave enough hype to the Panchayat election. But what purpose did it serve? Government actually failed to empower Panchs,” she said.

Like others former elected Panchayat members in the area, Asha this year didn’t submit her nomination papers, despite assurances of her victory by Muslims of the village.

“Ahead of the filing of nomination papers, Muslims who treat me like their own family member came to my home and appealed me to fight elections. I know they will support me, but I feel bad due to my previous experience,” she said.

Asha, who believed she wouldn’t be harmed on contesting elections, said the government’s “betrayal” affected the reputation of Panchs in their respective wards.

“Nobody ever asked or threatened me for contesting elections. But often we all end up questioning ourselves whether we have fulfilled the promises made to the people. I will give the example of my ward, which was promised an Anganwadi center, vocational training centre for women, but they were not established,” she said.

Asha said the government withholding honorarium of Panchs also discouraged many from contesting election this year.

“Initially, we were paid Rs500, which later was increased to Rs 1,000 per month. The government later didn’t consider paying us for the last 21 months. At times we often end up spending our own money for government related works,” she said.

“We would not even care of our honorarium had the government at least developed our village.”

Panchayat elections in the state commenced on November 17, after a delay of two years.

Considering current situation and no enhancement in the honorarium scores of the formerly elected Panchs have stayed away from poll this year.