DDC Polls: This Remote Kashmir Village is Grabbing Eyeballs With 7 Women Locked in Fierce Battle
File photos of Gupkar Alliance candidate Parmeet Kaur and 23-year-old lawyer-turned-politician Ruqaya Fayaz.
Usually this hillside village in north Kashmir is devoid of any colour and activity in the fall. But this winter, Dangiwacha is grabbing eyeballs with seven women from the area locked in a fierce election battle.
Aarti Nehru, a Kashmiri woman in her mid-thirties, has been crisscrossing villages to woo people to vote for her in the District Development Council (DDC) polls that will begin on Saturday.
Nehru promises to redress issues like repair of roads, culverts, besides improving the power situation in the area.
“I am put off by the non-existent facilities in our villages. Nothing has changed here for so many years,” she said, standing on a roadside mound as anxious villagers assembled to hear her out.
“Our representatives have never thrown their lot to help the poor population. I will try to be your agent of change,” she said in broken Kashmiri.
Married to a resident of Uttar Pradesh, Nehru said the poor condition of the villagers forced her to contest the DDC polls. She drove into her native village to reconnect with friends and neighbours. “They were happy with my nomination and assured support,” she said, tapping her high-heeled shoes on the road.
“I am contesting as an independent. There are no strings attached and I don't have to lie. I hope people give me a chance,” she said while adjusting a bindi on her forehead.
Nehru said the overwhelming Muslim population is not making any distinction while voting for her. “Religion does not matter in Kashmir. It is the only place where there are no religious biases,” she added. An old man in a crowd that had gathered by now vowed to vote for her. A dozen more raised their hands in support.
Nehru is based in Delhi where she helps her husband's business. She said she often travels to Dangiwacha to meet family and friends. “I live in Pransu village... beyond those mountains. They keep calling me back,” she said.
She said she was interested in politics from childhood, but was not sure that would begin from her own village. “My father is a social worker and politician," she said. Over the last week, Nehru has been knocking doors of villagers in remote areas to convince them of what she intends to do as she informs them of their rights and various schemes. “If I win I will try to sort out people's issues,” she said.
Nehru is being challenged by 23-year-old lawyer-turned-politician Ruqaya Fayaz. Though a rookie in politics, Fayaz said she has earned a little repute for herself by raising awareness levels in the villages, especially among women. “Women should pursue education, earn and stand on their feet,” she tells a motley group of young girls in pheran and scarfs during her rally.
Fayaz said she has set up a non-profit trust that trains young village girls in vocation like hand-arts. Besides, she supports poor families. “I come from a very poor family and am aware of the issues they face,” she said. “Being a lawyer, I know how to file RTIs and make officers accountable. A lot of central schemes were introduced in our villages after I stepped in,” she said.
Fayaz said she does not talk about big political issues like Article 370 because that is beyond her. “That is for big leaders. I have confined myself to smaller local issues,” she said.
One of the favourites to win the seat, villagers said, is Parmeet Kaur, a 30-year-old Sikh woman and mother of a three-year-old. She is affiliated to the People's Conference and is a joint candidates of the Gupkar Alliance. Kaur said she has been campaigning hard since the day she filed her application. She said her focus has been on the tribal belts because development has eluded them for decades.
“Their children have no access to good schools, good education. They have to walk long distances as there are no road-links to the hills. Power remains snapped for weeks together in winters,” she said. “They are the most deprived community and there is a dire need to make an intervention.”
Kaur said she made a maiden foray into politics and no one in her family has been in public life before this. “My husband is a driver. He has been very supportive,” she said, adding, “In fact, my father-in-law and his brothers have been campaigning for me.”
“I talk about schools, proper sewage disposal, roads and nullahs and people seem to be very keen to give me a chance,” she said.
As many as 43 DDC seats are going to polls on Saturday amid a heavy security bandobast. However, the contest in Dangiwacha -- a seat reserved for women -- will be watched keenly.