Amid dwindling support, terrorists to face Village Defence Groups in J&K

Amid the dwindling support for terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has ordered the formation of Village Defence Groups (VDGs) to fight Pakistan-sponsored ultras, who are trying to create fear psychosis by targeting unarmed civilians.

The MHA has written to the J&K Chief Secretary informing about the revised scheme of VDGs. In more vulnerable areas, persons leading the VDGs would be paid of Rs 4,500 per month and other members of these VDGs on voluntary basis will be paid Rs 4,000 per month. The VDGs will function in the district under the directions of the concerned Superintendents of Police.

Revival of erstwhile Village Defence Committees as VDGs could prove to be the last nail in the coffin of the 32-year-long Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in J&K.

Preparing local populace to tackle the terrorists could serve as a deadly blow for terror bosses and terrorist handlers sitting across the Line of Control (LoC). The terrorists will have to face armed civilians, who would remain present in every village to protect the unarmed denizens.

The Village Defence Committees were first formed in 1990 in Chenab Valley, when the Pakistan-sponsored insurgency broke out in J&K and terrorists started intruding into the frontier districts of Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kishtwar and Reasi in Jammu region. They resorted to indiscriminate killings of civilians, which led to people migrating from their native villages.

In order to resist the moves of the terrorists, VDCs supplemented the efforts of the security forces in combating terrorism in J&K during its peak period. The VDCs played a crucial role in fighting terrorism in the remote and border areas of J&K, particularly in Jammu region, wherever density of security forces was thinner.

The members of these committees fought the ultras, armed with sophisticated weapons, with .303 riffles of World War-II vintage. The VDC members acted as the eyes and ears of security forces due to their familiarity with the area and their access to local intelligence.

MHA’s nod will supplement efforts

The MHA giving its nod to constitute the Village Defence Groups would supplement the ongoing efforts of the security forces to wipe out terrorism from Jammu and Kashmir. It would also help in dealing with the acts of subversion/terror and trans-border movements.

Above all, it will be a manifestation of the will of the people to actively participate in the efforts to thwart the threat being posed to national security and integrity from within and outside.

Another important factor is the desire of the people to get rid of the terrorists so that peace could prevail. Everyone in J&K is fed up of violence and bloodshed. These groups can prove very effective in securing the vulnerable areas.

They need to be provided with sophisticated weapons, strengthened and trained to use them effectively. Ex-servicemen are available everywhere and they are a trained resource. Their services can be utilized to train youngsters. This trained and readily available manpower should be utilised in whatever manner it can best be used.

Politics over VDCs

In December 2015, a minister of then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had demanded that the VDCs should be disbanded. He had claimed that the force created to fight militancy had served its purpose. But the Bharatiya Janata Party, a coalition partner of PDP, had favoured its continuation.

The PDP at that point of time had seconded the demand of opposition National Conference (NC) and separatist groups for disbanding the VDCs. However, the then Deputy Chief Minister of J&K and senior BJP leader, Nirmal Singh, had rejected the demand of the Kashmir-based parties, stating that VDCs have played a big role in stamping out militancy and defending the population in remote and rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

In December 2015, separatists called for a shutdown in Kashmir to press for disbanding the VDCs. The issue had snowballed into a major controversy following the killing of three people by VDC members in Rajouri district over some personal feuds.

Nirmal Singh had said: “Disbanding of VDCs is an irrelevant demand. If an Army jawan or a policeman does something bad, will army or police be disbanded?”

The separatists like late Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani and so-called JKLF chief, Yasin Malik, tried their best to instigate violence in Kashmir on the pretext of disbanding the VDCs, as the members of their committees were instrumental in fighting Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in the frontier districts of Jammu region.

BJP, RSS leaders killed in Kishtwar

After the row over VDCs broke out, the then J&K government slowly started curtailing the powers of the VDCs. In the first instance, their wages were stopped and in the second phase the members of these committees were disarmed.

The VDC members staged many protests and voluntarily deposited their arms. After the VDCs were dismantled, terrorists in November 2018 killed BJP’s state secretary Anil Parihar and his brother Ajit Parihar in Kishtwar town. The duo was shot dead when they were returning home after closing their stationery shop. The killings had triggered angry protests in the town.

In April 2019, ultras again appeared in Kishtwar town and shot dead a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader, Chanderkant Sharma, and his personal security officer inside a hospital.

After Jammu, Kashmir may also follow suit

After J&K’s transition into a Union Territory on August 5, 2019, the local BJP leaders were relentlessly pursuing the revival of the VDCs. A delegation of BJP leaders from J&K recently called on Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi and reiterated its demand to revive these committees.

After the meeting, the MHA issued directions and rechristened the VDCs as Village Defence Groups and announced their formation.

During the past two years, Kashmir has witnessed a surge in civilian killings as ultras have chosen the soft targets. On Wednesday, an unarmed Panch was shot dead in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district.

The people in Kashmir too have started demanding setting up of self defence groups so that terrorists face resistance. For the time being, the VDGs will be activated in the areas near Line of Control in Jammu region. If the people of Kashmir exhibit the will and voluntarily come forward to fight the terrorists, the Village Defence Groups can come up in the Valley as well.

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