Ironically, the killing that has finally spurred the state and Centre into action on the matter — after ignoring it for months as panchs and sarpanchs complained of threats and resigned — may have little to do with militancy.
Preliminary police investigations indicate that a local feud may have been behind deputy sarpanch Mohammad Shafi Teli’s killing at Nowpora in north Kashmir on September 23. And at the centre of the feud may lie a poor man suddenly coming into wealth because of acquisition of his land by the BSF — a fact talked about in hushed tones by villagers in Nowpora.
Confirming the same, a police officer privy to the probe told The Indian Express: “We know that unlike earlier, local factors like a village feud became a reason. Even last year, former militants were used to get a contractor killed in Kreeri only to settle personal scores... In Tral (south Kashmir), we found out that a panch was killed by a militant of the Hizbul Mujahideen but the reasons were very local.” Four people have been picked up from Nowpora for questioning.
Born poor, 40-year-old Teli had struggled hard to make a living. His fortunes changed, however, eight years ago when the BSF — that has a frontier headquarters in the neighbouring Singhpora village — started acquiring land in Nowpora. Teli was among those who received a handsome compensation.
He constructed a house and started a business selling cement, which soon took off. “He was planning to expand his business,” said Teli’s neighbour Mohammad Shoaib.
According to him, many didn’t like Teli’s growing business or clout, particularly after he got elected as deputy sarpanch in the panchayat polls held last year after a gap of three decades. He was affiliated to the ruling National Conference.
Recently, the BSF approached villagers again, seeking to acquire 800 kanals of land more. Teli was again a big beneficiary as the BSF had identified more than 30 kanals of land belonging to him. However, unlike him, a majority of the villagers were opposed to the acquisition. “He (Teli) was even trying to motivate other villagers to hand over land to the BSF. Even those people who had no land started opposing him,” a villager said, requesting anonymity.
Survived by his wife and three children, Teli was shot dead as he came out of his neighbour’s house. Police believe the killers knew he visited this neighbour often.
His killing was the sixth murder of panchayat members since the elections and had triggered a spate of resignations. Ally Congress joined the protests, accusing the Omar government of letting the gains of the polls fritter away by not doing enough to either empower or protect the panchayat members.