The panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir last April were seen as a victory for democracy against the rule of terror and intimidation in the state. But now that euphoria is giving way to fear again. In the last two weeks, two panchayat heads, sarpanchs, have been shot dead in the Baramulla district in north Kashmir, close to the Line of Control with Pakistan.
On Sunday, 37-year-old Mohammad Shafi Teli was shot dead at his doorstep, setting off a string of resignations of panchayat heads and members. "I have resigned because of fear," said Fayaz Ahmad. Earlier, a sarpanch was killed in Phalahan village, leading to the resignation of more than 20 panchayat members.
"Today they killed Mohammad Shafi, tomorrow we don't know. We have no security, the government doesn't care. We don't want to be part of any politics or panchayats," said Mohammad Abdulla, a sarpanch.
The panchayat elections, when they were held last year, elected more than 30,000 members by a large number of voters who turned up despite terrorist threats.
But now the terrorists are striking fear by picking panchayat members as soft targets. Since January this year, terrorists have killed three panchayat members and four others were injured.
Tahira, a woman panchayat member, says, "I am scared. I have young kids. I have not earned even a penny. What is the point of continuing as a panchayat member?"
Police say they will take more steps to ensure the safety of panchayat members. SM Sahai, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir said, "We will also go into the consultation process with them and see how they would feel comfortable and how we can secure them. They should also take certain precautions as much as we need to step up security arrangements."
But for the terrorists, the job is much easier - kill one and frighten a hundred. And hit at the roots of democracy that is closest to the people in the Valley.