Youth can be in vanguard of change: Kashmiri woman leader

October 1st, 2008 - 6:19 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 1 (IANS) Zahra Banoo looked demure in her white salwar kurta, her head covered and a soft smile never leaving her face. However, behind this facade is the first woman in the history of Ladakh and Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir to contest elections for a local administrative body.Concerned about the plight of her community, Banoo wants the younger lot, both boys and girls, to come forward and change things for good in the troubled state.

Banoo lost the Sep 5 elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil but remains undeterred. She had contested on Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nomination.

“I lost the elections, but have something worth much more. I have won respect from the people. I have set an example for the women in my community who now have the confidence to stand up on public platforms and contest for similar posts,” Banoo told IANS when on a visit to the capital during the women Panchayat leaders meet Wednesday.

Banoo hails from the Kargil district. And in her own words, to stand up for her rights in a society where the role of women in the public sphere is negligible, is an achievement by itself.

“I had to stand against a powerful Agha (shia community head) from the same constituency. But I was undeterred. I knew what message I had to give - that women should not be suppressed by men in the name of dominance of religious clergy,” she said.

Although missing home on the joyous occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, which was celebrated in Jammu and Kashmir Wednesday, Bano said she was happy to interact with the women who share similar beliefs like her in the meet.

“I want to work on so many issues. Most important of them all is education for the girl child and women empowerment. There are not enough schools and colleges and even when students pass out of these institutes, they don’t get jobs. We have graduates doing menial jobs of labourers,” Banoo, in her mid 30s, rued.

“In the government schools, posts of teacher are lying vacant for years. When we complained to district commissioner, he had no help to offer. Leh (in Ladakh), in the matter, is more progressive than Kargil,” she added.

Talking about the law and order situation, Bano said politics and politicians have done nothing but added to the people’s misery.

“Politics is spoiling the atmosphere of the place. Every party has its own selfish motive, no one thinks about the people. Children lose precious years in school because of the troubles, there is dearth of jobs, Panchayat elections have not taken place since 2006, there are hardly any NGOs to help the common man there- it’s sad.

“We hardly have any festivities. Except on Eid. It’s only mourning that takes place every now and then,” she said.

Coming forth of the younger lot in holding public posts, Banoo believes, will solve some of the problems.

“Mostly, we have very elderly people as leaders in the community. I am sure if more young people - both boys and girls - come up and take over, things will change. They have a fresh perspective to life and are more pragmatic,” she said.

“I lost the election, even then I believe this is the beginning of better things,” Banoo smiled.

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