Md Jubair: Indian government in IIOJK have once again revived the Village Defense Guards (VDGs), Indian Army and Police is arming and training thousands of residents (non-Muslims) in the region along the LoC in the pretext to defend themselves from attacks by armed insurgents, however, in past such committees have been involved in abusing the Muslims attacks on unarmed Muslim civilian population.
Up to now more than 1400 villagers have been equipped and trained with automatic rifles. It has increased the sense of insecurity among the Muslim populations of Jammu and Kashmir.
The government-backed armed volunteers in the villages were formed in 1995 in the southern districts of Jammu. It mostly comprised members from the Hindu community in the remote border districts.
Muslim population the region has strongly condemned the Indian government move to arm the non-Muslims with arms. They recall the days in 1995, when these Village Defence Committees have in the killings and torture of unarmed Muslims.
The revived VDGs have been formed along the lines of Salwa Judum, a notorious militia group created at the turn of the century in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, where the Maoists led a resistance movement of the Indigenous people resisting a corporate takeover of their lands and resources.
According to Muhammad Aslam Chowdhary, a senior police official in Rajouri, that 700 VDG members have been sanctioned in Rajouri. He said while some have been given self-loading rifles (SLRs), a majority have Lee–Enfield rifles, commonly known as 303 – a bolt action, magazine-fed rifle.
In the past, several members of such committees have been accused of misusing the weapons provided to them.
On June 17, 2016, the government admitted in the state legislative assembly that 221 cases have been registered against members of village defense committees. Out of them, 23 cases of murder, seven of sexual assault and 15 of rioting were registered.
Several Hindu members of the Village Defense Committees were also accused of harassing, bullying and oppressing the local Muslim citizens and making a fuss over the weapons provided to them.
Although the government refused to dissolve these organizations, it assured that if any member of the Village Defense Committee was found guilty of breach of discipline, he should be disarmed immediately.
Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami, a local leader of the Communist Party of India’s Marx Valley and a former member of the assembly, says that law breakers cannot be dealt with in any way that is not mentioned in the law books.
According to him, when the law enforcement agencies have more capacity, then there is no need for such measures. This can lead to anarchy in the area.
Tarigami said that several members of the VDCs had misused the weapons provided to them in the past and there was no guarantee that this would not happen again.
Leading journalist and analyst Dr. Arun Joshi said that the move to reconstitute Village Defense Committees or groups was a political decision by the Government of India which wants Muslim population to be cornered in IIOJK.
He said that in the past also the members of such committees in different districts of Jammu region were provided with arms and trained to use them but that was the time of rise of armed movement in Jammu and Kashmir and it is being done to terrororize the Muslim population of IIOJK.
Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, says she opposes the move to arm civilians because it would increase the use of weapons in the troubled region and will lead to genocide of Muslim population.