The single-storey house of Asha, a Kashmiri Pandit from north Kashmir’s Tangmarg area, on Tuesday witnessed an intermittent trickle of visitors and locals, who came to congratulate her. Asha (51) has defeated a Muslim woman in the Muslim-majority Kunzar Wussan constituency to become the first Pandit to win a panch seat in the ongoing polls.
The 16-phase panchayat polls are being held in Kashmir after a decade. The polls, which started on April 13, have seen eight phases of elections with over 80% voter turnout. The final results will be out in the third week of May. J&K is voting for 29,719 sarpanch seats, of which around 3,000 are reserved for women.
Asha’s is the solitary Pandit family in ward No. 4, though there are five Pandit families in the Wussan constituency, 30 km north of Srinagar. “I contested to serve my people,” said a jubilant Asha, who works as a peon with a local school, earning R75 a month. Asha’s husband, Pandit Radha Krishan Bhat, is a farmer, the elder son is in the police and the younger one is unemployed.
When the Kashmiri Pandits were fleeing in the 1990s following militant threats, Asha constructed her new house in the same year, reflecting her faith in the majority community. “I decided to migrate with my family once in the early 1990s, but my neighbours did not allow me to. Since then I never felt unsafe,” said Asha, who has studied till Class 5.
Unlike other areas, no Pandit family has sold land in the area. “Even those who had migrated get their lands tilled by local Muslims,” said Abdul Hameed Wani, the village head who impressed upon Asha to contest the polls. Asha appealed to Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley. “This is a message to my brethren living outside. It’s because of Muslim votes that I became a panch,” said Asha.
Asha is known for being bold and upfront. “Once a villager’s identity card was snatched by the army personnel, it was Asha who took the lead to approach the army camp and get back the card,” recalled a neighbour.