Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir Gujjar Bakarwal Pahari Awami Forum (JKGBPAF), a part of the civil society fighting for the restoration of peace in the state, is planning to contest the forthcoming panchayat election.

"More than 5,000 people participated in the march. In the backdrop of a boycott of panchayat election by prominent political parties of Jammu and Kashmir, the Gujjar Bakarwal Pahari community has decided to fight for their rights through the electoral process," a member of the forum said.

The Gujjar Bakarwal Pahari community constitutes about 25% of the total population. It has been a strong advocate of democracy and the political system. "However, the elections boycott call has not been accepted by the community. We have decided to fight for their rights under the banner of JKGBPAF," another member of the community said.

“Thousands of people from the community met at the maha panchayat and decided the next course of action. A core committee was formed during the meeting, which will later give a report on the population-base at every panchayat. Based on the report, we may select a leader with mass appeal and field him as an independent candidate to contest the election,” said Irfan Bhadana, a coordinator of the JKGBPAF.

In March, the community had joined hands with the Art of Living led by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to organise an apolitical mega event at Srinagar named ‘Paigam-e-Mohabbat’, which saw the participation of a large number of people from the community. The event was aimed at bringing members of civil society together to raise their voice against the gun culture in the Valley that has held the state back for decades.

“We have decided to contest elections,” said Raushandin Bara, one of the organisers of the event, “It is said that we are 11%, but the fact is that we are 30% to 35% of the state population. We have many provisions for growth and development under the Constitution, but we have not been able to avail the opportunities because of lack of education. This maha panchayat will be a step in that direction.”