In my beautiful town of Aishmuqam in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district, a fear is gripping the populace: a fear that a wide disconnect among the people may emerge in coming times, if the situation on the ground remains the same.
This grim situation is caused by the political and administrative restrictions imposed on elected representatives like myself. We are all aware of the fact that, in the past, the powers that be used techniques of overpowering or boycotting, eroding democratic values, electoral processes and public policies in the erstwhile state.
Following the changes introduced after August 2019, elections for the posts of panch and sarpanch and to Block Development Councils (BDC), Municipal Councils and District Development Councils (DDC) were held for the first time in decades; a move that was appreciated by all, especially the young, who took the lead.
At the time, those of us who participated in these grassroots elections were painted as ‘anti-Kashmir’ by our fellow Kashmiris. That is why those of us knew who got elected knew that it was important to prove them wrong. We were confident that our work as elected representatives would reflect our commitment to Kashmir. But unfortunately, the scene on the ground is something different.
Now is an appropriate time to remind the Union government of the solemn agreements that drove us young people to participate in those grassroots elections. From the current administration to “unidentified gunmen”, we are being attacked from all corners. These events are not only increasing Jammu and Kashmir’s disconnect with mainland India, but are also wreaking havoc on the lives of elected representatives.
Pertinently, if restraining elected representatives, ridiculing them and leaving them to the mercy of unidentified gunmen was the end-goal, why did the country and the J&K administration tell us that all the solutions lie in democracy? Why were we urged to participate in political processes?
The rest of India should know that we, the only elected representatives in the Valley as of today (barring the three MPs who were elected in May 2019) are subject to confinement by the government. The administration believes that keeping us confined to ‘safe accommodation’ is its biggest achievement whereas the reality is that its inability to provide us with a conducive working atmosphere so that we can serve our people marks its biggest defeat.
It is saddening and unfortunate that even on Eid, I, the president of the municipal committee, Aishmuqam, remained confined within four walls, 20 km from my home. What kind of deliverance will people expect from an elected representative who can’t even take his own son to the doctor on Eid? This kind of an approach will get us nowhere. Years of investment in democratic ideas, peace and reconciliation, aimed at connecting people, will be wasted.
People have high expectations of elected representatives, and we, too, derive our power from the people. However, when we are bound and confined to the four walls of a ‘safe house’, how is it possible to connect people with one another? These actions are completely ineffective and will yield no beneficial results in the future if the Union and J&K governments continue to treat public representatives in this manner.
Political leaders are stewards of democracy and we have never before seen such rash judgments that endanger democracy and people’s faith in the system.
It’s not like I haven’t brought up this issue with the authorities. I have raised this problem with both the Union government authorities and J&K officials, but it appears that mainstream political space for young people in Kashmir is being methodically constricted, and no one has taken any steps to regulate democracy in the region. It seems the ‘narrative of democratisation’ is more important than any real form of democracy itself.
I want to help the people who got me elected to this position. In a democracy, a sense of freedom will bring us peace and allow us to strive for the common good. Restriction and confinement will only lead to unease and a loss of faith. It is only by empowering us to act effectively that any separatist notions can be defeated.
I expect the Union government and the J&K administration to allow us to do our work as elected representatives and connect with the people on the ground. We are answerable to their questions: their questions on development, jobs, peace and prosperity. We have to be given the democratic space to work together for larger integration, peace and prosperity in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Sofi Arafat is president, Municipal Committee, Aishmuqam in Anantnag. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org