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Ex-militant’s PoK-born wife contesting local poll in Kashmir’s Kupwara

Somiya Sadaf

If returned in Monday’s Phase-4 of the District Development Council (DDC) election from Kupwara’s Drugmulla constituency, forty-two-year-old Somiya Sadaf of Muzaffarabad will be creating a history. She will be the first individual from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to be elected in a democratic exercise conducted by the Indian authorities in Jammu and Kashmir.

Since the only case of crossing the LoC illegally against her husband, Abdul Majid Bhat of Batargam, Kupwara, has failed in the court of law and Somiya stands duly registered as a J&K domicile in her aadhaar card, ration card, the electoral roll and the Elector’s Photo Identity Card (EPIC), her nomination papers have been found in place and valid. On Monday, December 7, in a multi-pronged contest, she is seeking vote for a seat in DDC Kupwara.

Majid, now 46, was 16-year-old and a Class 10 student when he joined hordes of the Kashmiri youths crossing the LoC for taking training in PoK and Pakistan and returning as terrorists in 1990. “Being a young boy, some well-wishers counselled me to pursue my education in Pakistan and distance myself from the militants. I deserted the MJF (Muslim Janbaz Force) camp and managed to call my academic testimonials from my home in Kupwara.

I completed graduation in Lahore and thereafter two PGs in English and Arabic from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad”, Majid revealed to India Narrative. Majid married Somiya in Muzaffarabad in 2002. In June 2010, the couple returned to Kashmir via Kathmandu, Nepal, under the Omar Abdullah government’s scheme of return and rehabilitation for the disgruntled militants, along with four children.

The couple were held in Police custody for about a month and thereafter, as per the State assurance, released on bail. While the couple’s eldest son, Mohammad Talha, is currently in Class 10, two more sons—Mohammad Huzaifa and Mohammad Azan—besides a daughter Saliha, are in the lower standards in three different schools in Kupwara. When Somiya reached Kupwara, she had a graduation in Islamic Studies, Urdu, English, Civics and Psychology from a university in Lahore.

While adjusting herself among her Kashmiri in-laws and setting up her home, she did Masters in Urdu through distance mode from Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANU), Hyderabad. “It was an incredibly big deal to start from a scratch”, Somiya said. “We were total strangers with no resources in hand other than our spirit for living and struggling”. She added: “I associated myself with the Government of India’s SRLM (State Rural Livelihood Mission.

Soon I developed a network of self-help groups (SHGs) of the local working women. One day I was honoured to share my success story with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi through a video conference. He was impressed and appreciated my work”. In a video available on YouTube, Somiya is seen narrating to Modi how she had become a leader and cashier of a network of 1,400 women spread in 170 SHGs.

She asserts proudly that over 90 percent members of her SHGs had established one or the other small time business to earn their livelihood. Modi reveals to her how he had promoted wool trimmers for farmers which had substantially increased production and reduced labour in Gujarat. Somiya tells the Prime Minister that she had herself set up a dairy form of 16 cows and she was supplying 130 litre of milk to the market.

Besides, she had set up a knitting centre of 50 girls and a readymade garments boutique. That all combined together would substantially support not only her home but also scores of women in her SHGs. After her video with the PM went viral, senior bureaucrats like former Advisor to Governor, BB Vyas, Financial Commissioner Atal Dulloo and Principal Secretary Asgar Samoon visited Somiya’s home and business units.

She was associated with the SRLM’s Umeed programme and the Jammu and Kashmir Bank’s loan and marketing awareness programmes. “But I am crestfallen after August 2019”, Somiya said. “My milk production had reached 150 kilos a day. From 5 August (2019) to 15 August (2019), I couldn’t send a litre to my customer hotels in Kupwara. In addition to the three businesses, I had set up a poultry farm. All these businesses felt flat as I failed to buy feed and I had no customers for my milk and chicken.

I began defaulting on my bank loans. I discharged all four of my employees. For many months, we eked out our livelihood only from eggs”, Somiya said. Not losing her heart, a stoic Somiya took a plunge into the valley’s electoral politics immediately after the UT Government announced the first DDC elections in October 2020.

She is pitted against 11 candidates including Shabnam Lone of the PDP and the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) besides Shabroza of the Congress party. “I decided to contest the elections after I realised that the people of Kashmir in general were hugely disillusioned with all the traditional parties and leaders and they were yearning for a change. I am sure that most of the 32,000 voters in Drugmulla would support me as their love and respect for me and my family has been unflinching and unmatched. My election symbol of laptop is taking a lead on all others”, Somiya said.