Thursday, 24 December 2015

Taming the Terror, Rao Farman Ali

Taming the Terror, Rao Farman Ali
After the killing of a Muslim youth, Mohammad Ishtiyaq (26), youth leader of National Conference (NC) in Kalakote area of Rajouri district by VDC member, Kewal Sharma in Potha village of Kalakote Tehsil— generated heat amidst the chilling cold of “Chlai Kalan’ in Kashmir Valley, besides Muslims parts, including Pirpanchal and Chenab Valleys of Jammu region, although an FIR for murder has been filed in this matter and one VDC member has been arrested.

On the other hand, opposition National Conference has demanded judicial inquiry into the killing of the civilian and called for strict punishment under law, asking that all the VDC guns be retrieved from the members of VDC committees in Jammu province.

There is a widespread and persistent demand from Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir including separatists to disband VDCs, because they have often been found involved in harassing common people, even in past some of the VDC members have been indicted in some rape and murder cases, this vicious cycle of intimidation of Muslims, especially youth is still going on in sub-regions of Pirpanchal Valley— comprising Rajouri and Poonch districts; and Chenab Valley, comprising— Reasi, Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar districts. Furthermore, VDCs have often drawn strong condemnations from Human Right organisations working in Jammu and Kashmir. The VDCs are accused of misusing the weapons ‘to infringe human rights’ mainly of Muslims.

In 1995, when state was under President’s Rule, government of India hit upon an idea to tackle militancy in the Doda [Kistwar, Ramban] district[s] of war-torn Jammu and Kashmir, so the concept of Village Defence Committees (VDCs) was born. Given the fact that Doda [Chenab Valley] is an extremely mountainous area, with little hamlets scattered over vast, treacherous and thickly forested slopes, it was found impossible for the Army to be present everywhere.

Forming VDCs by arming villagers themselves to tackle militants was thought to be a more feasible option by India. It was also probably thought of as a major money-saver. Each member of the VDC was to be paid a humble sum of Rs. 500 per month for his/her services. Then, DIG Doda-Udhampur Range Kuldeep Khoda was instrumental for VDC formation. Starting first in Doda[Kistwar, Ramban], VDCs were later set up in other militancy-affected parts of Jammu and Kashmir[mainly Jammu province] that have a sizeable Hindu minority presence — Rajouri, Poonch and some areas in the Udhampur district. There are roughly over 3700 VDCs in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. With each VDC consisting of roughly eight members, each of whom is given a weapon by the authorities, this means that there are 29600 armed civilians in the state patronised by government and there are approximately 12,000 or more armed civilians in Doda[Kistwar, Ramban], working for the VDC network , but according to official estimates 26500 people are actively working with the VDCs. 
The Indian Government claims that even though children can join the armed forces, they are not formally enrolled into regular service before the age of 18. In Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian army has armed local Village Defence Committees (VDC) – primarily Hindus – in Doda,[Kistwar], Udhampur and the border districts[of Jammu] to assist security forces in anti-insurgency operations.(Source: Human Rights Watch [HRW], ‘Behind the Kashmir Conflict: Abuses by Indian Security Forces and Militant Groups Continue’, The Hindu, 21 July 1999).
Essentially, in winter session of State Assembly 2015, Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed declared on the floor of the house that in Jammu and Kashmir, there are 4,111 VDCs, which means that there are 32,888 VDC members, [who are dangerously placed] and signifies that their number has increased in PDP-BJP coalition government. Now, some people of BJP and PDP from Chenab and Pirpanchal valleys are also demanding that the notoriety of VDCs must come to an end and they should be disbanded, of course, on this grave issue, currently, Mufti led coalition is undergoing litmus test, whether the government will take some steps vis-à-vis VDCs or succumb before New Delhi, let’s wait and watch.


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