iconimg Thursday, September 03, 2015

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Srinagar, January 13, 2013
In the wake of fresh attacks on panchayat members in Jammu and Kashmir, 20 panches and sarpanches of Baramulla district on Sunday announced their resignations before the media citing “threats to their lives”. Chief minister Omar Abdullah met the family of woman panch Zoona Begum, 30, who was shot at by unidentified gunman on Saturday in north Kashmir’s Sopore, about 50km from Srinagar. The bullet hit her in the neck and she was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. The attack came a day after gunmen killed a sarpanch in the town.

Zoona Begum’s family has decided not to seek security to avoid attracting “more attacks”. “We don’t want personal security. That will cause more problems for me. I have three young children at home,” her husband Mohammad Ramzan said. 

The CM cancelled a dinner with his cabinet ministers and met senior officials from the police and security agencies even as unconfirmed reports of gunmen firing at another sarpanch in Sopore emerged. The sarpanch is said to have escaped unhurt.

Ever since a record turnout of 80% in the panchayat polls in 2011, members of the grassroots body have been continuously targeted. So far, four have been killed.

The police suspect the involvement of militants in many of the attacks, but have not ruled out personal rivalries being the reason in some instances.
In November last year, Syed Salahuddin, the chairman of militant conglomerate United Jehad Council, accused mainstream politicians of “portraying the panchayat elections as a referendum by Kashmiris for Union of India”.

Meanwhile, hardline Hurriyat Conference chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani accused the police of “sluggish investigations” into the attacks.