Setting an example of communal harmony and brotherhood, a Hindu-majority village in Bhaderwah town of Jammu and Kashmir elected unopposed the head of its only Muslim family as their Panch in the ongoing nine-phased Panchayat polls.
Chowdhary Mohammad Hussain, 54, a Gujjar from a family of cattle rearers, has become the Panch of Bhelan-Kharothi village of Hanga Panchayat.
Incidentally, Mr Hussain's family is the only Muslim family in the 450-odd residents of the village. He lives with his wife, five sons and a daughter-in-law and has married off all his four daughters.
"This may seem bizarre in a polarised and communally driven society today, but we take pride in our shared brotherhood," a local resident, Duni Chand, 57, told PTI.
He said Mr Hussain was the unanimous choice of his community which wanted to set a precedent for harmonious coexistence and espouse brotherhood which is the strength of the country.
"The narrative of polarisation and division on the name of religion has not taken away our belief that we are part of the same family. If it has not destroyed our cohesion over the period, it won't now," Mr Chand said.
He said the residents reposed their faith in Mr Hussain with a twin objective to spread a message to the country from this remote region and reassure him that the people of the village are with him whatever be the situation.
"No doubt Hussain is capable of handling village issues, but we chose him to set an example in the society and show Hussain that he should not feel isolated," he said.
"I am feeling fortunate to be born in a village, where my elders have taken a bold decision given the prevailing situation. I hope the society as a whole will take a lesson from the decision of our elders and isolate the elements bent upon to disturb the mutual trust and faith to save the country," said Harsh Singh, 24, a postgraduate student, said.
The unanimous decision of the villagers has not only made Mr Hussain emotional but upbeat to work round-the-clock for the welfare of the villagers.
"We have been living in complete harmony and they never let me feel that I am the only Muslim living in their village and by making me their Panch that too unopposed has taken their love and faith to a different level, for which I will be indebted to them for the rest of my life," Mr Hussain said.
He said he would not only try his best to live upto their expectations but would surely go an extra mile to do whatever possible.
"This is the only way, I can repay their favour," he said.
He said road connectivity to the village would be his top most priority.
The nine-phased Panchayat polls started on November 17 and are scheduled to end on December 11.
Panchayat Hanga of Bhadarwah block went to polls in the seventh phase on December 4.