- The women are married to former terrorists who returned from PoK
- Officials say they produced necessary documents while filing nominations
- Probe has been initiated to ascertain their antecedents
The election of two women as Sarpanch in north Kashmir's Kupwara district has raised eyebrows after reports that they were both residents of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The women - Dilshada Begum and Arifa Begam - are married to former terrorists who have returned from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir with their families as part of the government's surrender and rehabilitation policy in 2010.
Though officials say that a probe has been initiated to ascertain their antecedents, they do not rule out that the allegations could be politically motivated.
Dilshada Begum was elected unopposed from Mawar village and Arifa Begum from Khumeryal village. Officials say that both the women produced all the necessary documents before filing their nomination papers.
"Arifa's nomination papers were accepted because she had all the required documents and her name is in the electoral rolls," said Ghulam Mohiudin Wani, an election official.
Arifa Begum married Ghulam Mohammad Mir in PoK before they returned via Nepal in 2010. Mr Mir, a resident of Kupwara had spent eight years in PoK after crossing the Line of Control.
Thousands of families from Kupwara migrated to PoK in the early 1990s after hostilities began affecting the lives of residents living near the Line of Control. Since then, they are living in refugee camps in PoK.
Locals in Mawar say that Dilshada Begum's family was also among those who were displaced in 1990 and that she has returned with her husband in 2010.
"She is a resident of Kashmir and is married to a Kashmiri. She came back with her husband after living in exile for several years'' said Engineer Rashid, the legislator from Langate in Kupwara.
Officials say that women can't be barred from contesting elections just because they had illegally crossed the Line of Control.
"Crossing the Line of Control illegally is an offence but it cannot be a reason to disqualify anyone from contesting elections. In this case, we have to verify if they are original residents of Kashmir or not," said a senior officer.
In the past, a number of former separatists have contested elections in Jammu and Kashmir and some of them even became ministers.
Panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir are scheduled to be held in nine phases, beginning November 17. As per law, only permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir have a right to vote and contest elections in the state. According to the Jammu and Kashmir constitution, PoK is part of the state and refugees from there who are living on this of the LoC have a right to vote in Assembly and local elections. They also enjoy all the special privileges given to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir. But there are no such rights for refugees from Pakistan who are living in the state. They have been fighting for citizenship rights for several decades.
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