After winning DDC polls, women candidates in Kashmir hope to bring development

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On the morning of 22 December 2020, Hakeema Bano woke up early in the morning to offer prayers at the break of dawn at her home in the Gund area of central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. She had contested the recently held elections, results of which was to be announced later in the day. Bano hoped for victory.

A member of the Balti community, Bano is a teacher by profession and among the women who contested and won the first-ever District Development Council (DDC) elections. The participation of these women, many of them first-time contestants, was largely the direct outcome of the mandatory reservation for women candidates in the share of seats in the district councils.

Bano had never considered joining politics but this time, after the Jammu and Kashmir administration amended the Panchayati Raj Act, thirty-three percent of the total seats in the DDCs were reserved for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and women. “I came to know about the reservation,” said Bano, “this was an opportunity for me.”

At the end of the day, Bano had been declared as the winner of the Gund-A seat. Bano had contested on the ticket of the regional National Conference and won with a margin of 1102 votes — she bagged a total of 1942 votes. “I went door-to-door in order to convince people and they trusted me,” said a jubilant Bano.

Being a resident of a far-flung area, Bano said that she contested the elections to solve the local problems that her community faced a lot of problems on a daily basis. “Our community faces a lot of issues such as constant power cuts, water scarcity, lack of proper education and improper healthcare system,” she said. “Also, women don’t get the chance to take advantage of the schemes meant for them.”

The National Conference, said Bano, had approached her to join the party and contest, shortly after the elections were announced. “They offered me to work with them. I am the first person in my family to join politics,” said Bano. “I want to work with NC and provide my community with the basic necessities that they lack.”

In the Khaitangan village in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, 24-year-old Quratul Bashir won the election with 3767 votes. A lawyer by profession, she has been associated with the Peoples Democratic Party since she was 19. “I joined JKPDP because it is sympathetic towards the common people. I am proud of the leaders of Alliance,” she said. “They feel the pain of our people.”

Bashir said that she contested the elections because she realised the importance of the DDCs. Before contesting the elections, Bashir felt a non-profit was how she could help her community. “I wanted to start a non-governmental Organisation. But then I realised that I can solve the problems of my people if I win,” she said. Like Bano, Bashir also wants to develop her village and address the lack of basic amenities. “I will start working on the genuine demands of people. I want to become their voice,” she said.

Bashir believes that the participation and victory of women in these elections was a sign of progress. Women, she said, have been given a chance to share their ideas and work for other women. “Through this, the women who are oppressed, suppressed, and depressed will be helped,” she said. “We can become role models for other women.”

For 37-year-old Ruby Jan, who won a seat in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on the ticket of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), too, the development of her village was a reason enough to contest the elections. “I don’t know anything about politics,” she said, “but I know that winning these elections could prove beneficial for my people.”

Jan’s father and two uncles have long been associated with the CPI(M) and she, too, had long wanted to be a part of the party and make her contributions. “There are a lot of problems in our village such as power cuts, water scarcity, and improper roads. The voices of our people are not able to reach the authorities, I hope I will take their voices forward,” said Jan.

A resident of Behibagh village of Kulgam, Jan polled 1433 votes, defeating her opponent by a margin of 643 votes. “Janab Mohammad Yousuf Tarigmai didn’t leave any stone unturned to make a change in Kulgam,” said Jan. “I am following his path.”

However, not all victorious candidates have consciously participated in the elections. Shameema Bano, a 32-year-old resident of Khonmoh area of Srinagar won the election with 213 votes on the ticket of the recently formed Apni Party but refused to speak to The Kashmir Walla on phone.

Later, her brother Zahid Zahoor spoke on her behalf. “She is uneducated,” he said of Shameema, now an elected councillor. The decision to contest the elections was taken by Zahoor, who thought that she would be able to win — capitalising on the reservation. “When the DDC elections started, many people didn’t even know the full form of DDC. Similarly, she will also learn how to do things.”

Even though Zahoor claimed that he was not a member of the party, he said that Shameema recently joined the Apni Party, led by the former PDP member and legislator Altaf Bukhari. “We chose the Apni Party because for the last seventy years other parties have played with the emotions of our people. It is not possible to revoke abrogation,” said Zahoor. “At least Altaf Bukhari Sahab is not lying.”

Having imposed the decision on Shameema, Zahoor believes that she will learn about her role and responsibilities as a councillor “just like a woman learns her duties [as a wife] after marriage”. “It takes a lot of time for her to adjust in the new home,” he said. “But eventually she learns.”

How would Shameema learn her new responsibilities? “I will help her,” said Zahoor. “We will sum up the demands and prioritize the demands and put them forward.”

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