SrinagarShe says she is a feminist and won’t cover her head to make a statement. She thus won’t be part of the National Conference, PDP, even Congress which “ask their women leaders to hide their hair to play to a stereotype of a Muslim woman. Meet Neelam Gash, the incharge of the BJP’s womens wing in Kashmir.
Ever since she joined the Hindutva outfit during 2014 Assembly election, Gash has been busy building the BJP’s support base among the Kashmiri women – of course supported by the two other prominent colleagues Hina Bhat and Darakhshan Andrabi.
And they have succeeded. According to Gash, the BJP has now more than 25000 women members in Valley including in the militancy-ridden South Kashmir districts.
“In each district we have a district president. Our district women wings have offices adjacent to our district offices,” Gash said. “Meetings are held at the offices of our district presidents where we rally our womenfolk and also solve their issues”.
How do you recruit women when joining the BJP in Valley entails a degree of risk, more so, in militancy-ridden South where a BJP worker was recently killed. “We don’t actively and visibly seek membership of the women. We do small, small works of the women, address their issues and then they happily join us. In some places, more than hundred women have joined us at one time”.
However North Kashmir Baramulla and South Kashmir Anantnag have the highest number of women recruits.
But secrecy is the key. “We ensure that our members are not publicly identified, lest it create any security problems for them,” Gash said. “Anyway, they register themselves online as the BJP members. All they have to do is to give a call to a BJP number”.
Are these women paid any remuneration? “Not at all. But being a part of the BJP empowers them. Their grievances and issues are easily addressed,” she said. We ensure that the administration takes their issues seriously. I personally visit offices to sort the issues and more often than not it is done on priority.
Gash’s own entry into the party was accidental. “It was just a few weeks before the 2014 Assembly election that I received a call from a senior BJP leader that I have been selected as a candidate for Srinagar’s Zadibal constituency. They gave me a night’s time to decide. I talked to my father who gave a go-ahead,” she said. “I jumped into the fray rightaway. I held many public meetings in the short time that I had”.
But Gash polled just 360 votes. The seat was won by the PDP candidate Aabid Ansari.
However, failure didnt stop her. Ever since she has worked hard to build her base in the constituency and also enlist more women recruits for the BJP across the Valley. She claims to have around 15000 members in Zadibal constituency alone including around 2000 women.
Gash, however, acknowledges that it’s tough being a BJP leader in the state, more so a woman leader. She still remembers the South Kashmir youth who was killed by militants soon after attending a BJP meeting in Srinagar. He was abducted and later his body was recovered at some distance from home. His throat had been slit.
“I had met him several times. He was a good worker and had helped mobilize some support for the BJP,” Gash said.
Does this make her apprehensive about her own security? It does. But Gash has sought refuge in fatalism. She believes that the death comes only at an appointed time, so she doesnt worry.
For now she is focussed on building a sufficient support base for the BJP among women to give the party some leg up in the next Assembly election in 2020, or even earlier in 2019 parliament polls. We hope that the BJP opens its score in Kashmir Valley in the next election, Gash says. And we are confident that our efforts will bear fruit.
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