Women have shaped the course of history with their wisdom, strength, and leadership, but patriarchy and restrictive cultural laws continue to be firmly rooted in our society. Women remain marginalised from the political sphere and face immensely hard challenges in political and public decision-making processes. When it comes to an intelligent and politically conscious woman involving herself in decision-making, her male counterparts become highly perturbed, fearing an efficient alternative leadership. This fact became more obvious in the first major democratic exercise in J&K post the abrogation of Article 370 – the elections to District Development Councils. Several of the seats in these councils were reserved for women. One of them was the council seat for Wagoora in district Baramulla.
It was a high-profile election that Safeena Beigh, wife of noted parliamentarian and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Beigh, won with a huge margin of votes. Most of the political leaders in Kashmir, whose names I should not mention, have lost credibility among the people and try different tricks to beat the political competition. The Sangrama constituency in Baramulla was once the favourite of PDP’s Syed Basharat Bukhari, who won twice as MLA and served as cabinet minister in the BJP-PDP coalition government. He later surprised everyone by quitting the PDP and joining the party that was his main rival throughout his political career – the National Conference. For the past many years no one could compete with Basharat Bukhari. Among the ones that did succeed, most could not sustain their position for long. Safeena Beigh had to face Bukhari’s PAGD candidate on one side and the Apni Party candidate, the mother of former MLA Shoaib Lone, on the other side. Politically and strategically, it was a tough fight for Safeena. But for her, it was not merely an election contest but a battle for integrity, dignity and self-respect in a politically murky atmosphere.
Muzaffer Beigh himself was criticised for letting his wife into politics. Some of the challenges he and Safeena had to face were derogatory social media campaigns and false propaganda that Muzzafer Beigh had been instrumental in helping the BJP government in Delhi with the abrogation of J&K’s autonomous status, and that he was the one creating hurdles in the development of the vast area of Kreeri region.
Safeena Beigh took up the challenge and stood firm for her beliefs and principles without compromising. In such circumstances where most Kashmiri women would prefer staying behind closed doors, she stepped out into the ruthless world of politics. She had her apprehensions, her fears, but she conquered them all. Such is the character of this lady, who is bold yet emotional, tough yet caring. Usually, such contrary attributes aren’t found in the same person. One is either too courageous or too soft-hearted, but she is both. More importantly, she used the example of her husband to develop admirable leadership qualities and the ability to plan strategically and foster cooperation among team members.
As a leader, Safeena Beigh maintained team morale and kept everyone’s confidence level up. She launched her election campaign as an Independent candidate and intelligently managed to recruit several senior political leaders, motivated youths, civil society members, academics, and most importantly, senior citizens to her side. To disprove the baseless allegations and the derogatory social media campaign against her husband, she boldly initiated a village-to-village campaign, held public meetings, conducted rallies to garner trust and respect from people. Her political engagements and commitments left her little time to spend with her two little daughters and ailing husband throughout the one month of campaigning. However, she believed that without courage one cannot practice any other virtue. Throughout her election campaign I observed Safeena Beigh and came to the conclusion that she is an excellent woman leader who believes in herself but more importantly, makes other people believe in her.
—The writer is a journalist. [email protected]