Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 17 January 2023

Village Defence Committees

Source: By Arun Sharma: The Indian Express

After militants killed six people in two days in the Upper Dangri village of Jammu and Kashmir on 1 and 2 January 2023, locals have demanded that they be provided weapons to take on attackers. Responding to the demands, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha on 2 January 2023 assured the people that they would get a Village Defence Committee (VDC) on the lines of those in Doda district.

The same was echoed by Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh, who visited the village, on the outskirts of Rajouri town, after the twin attacks.

What is a VDC?

The VDCs were first formed in the erstwhile Doda district (now Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban districts) in mid 1990s as a force multiplier against militant attacks. The then Jammu and Kashmir administration decided to provide residents of remote hilly villages with weapons and give them arms training to defend themselves.

The VDCs have now been renamed as Village Defence Guards (VDG). The new scheme to set up VDGs in vulnerable areas of J&K was approved by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in March last year. Like a VDC member, each VDG will be provided a gun and 100 rounds of ammunition.

How are VDGs different from VDCs?

Both VDG and VDC is a group of civilians provided guns and ammunition to tackle militants in case of attack until the arrival of security forces.

Under the new scheme, the persons leading the VDGs will be paid Rs 4,500 per month by the government, while others will get Rs 4,000 each. In the VDCs, only the Special Police Officers (SPOs) leading them were provided a remuneration, of Rs 1,500 monthly. The SPOs, the lowest rank in the J&K Police, used to be retired army, para military or police personnel.

Who will have control over the VDGs?

The VDGs, officials said, will function under the direction of the SP/SSP of the district concerned.

What was the composition of VDCs?

minimum of 10-15 ex-servicemenex-policemen and able-bodied local youth were enrolled in each VDC on a voluntary basis. On an average, at least five of them were provided 303 rifles and 100 rounds each, through the district Superintendent of Police. The allotment of weapons could go up depending on the credentials of the volunteers, total population of a village and its security requirements, as assessed by the district magistrate and SSP concerned.

Why was the need to set up VDCs felt?

The militancy that began in Kashmir in the early 1990s had spread to the adjoining Doda district by mid 1990s. The demand for arming the civilian population first rose after the massacre of 13 people in Kishtwar in 1993. As the killings increased, prompting the migration of Hindus from villages to nearby towns, the Home ministry in 1995 decided to set up the VDCs so as to stop this exodus, coming after Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the state in the early 1990s.

Later, the scheme was expanded to other areas of the Jammu division as militants extended their activities to Udhampur, Reasi, Rajouri, Poonch, Kathua and Samba districts.

How did the idea to arm civilians come up?

The idea was taken from the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars, when the government armed ex-servicemen and abled-bodied youth in villages along the border to guard against infiltration of Pakistani spies. The scheme saw success, with locals guarding their areas at night and even providing information to Army troops that led to decimation of Pakistani posts and arrest of Pakistani spies.

VDCs’ contribution in the fight against militants

During the peak of militancy in most parts of Jammu division, especially areas falling in Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal regions, the hills of Udhampur, and Reasi and Kathua districts, the VDCs played a significant role in combating militancy. They were the most-feared armed groups among militants in areas where poor road networks delayed the arrival of security forces. The villagers, well-versed with the local topography, averted many militant attacks and helped in their capture and killings.

What controversies did the VDCs get into?

Along with the successes, the VDCs also faced allegations of human rights violations and other crimes, including murder, rape and extortions. As per official figures placed on the floor of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly in 2016, 27,924 civilians were serving in 4,248 VDCs across the state. There were 221 FIRs against them, including 23 cases murders, seven cases of rape, rioting (15), NDPS Act (3) and 169 other cases.

Disarming of VDC members

After peace returned, there were demands from certain quarters to disband the VDCs in 2002. Since then, the demand has been raised from time to time, but successive governments have stopped short of disbanding them. However, over a period of time, the number of VDC members has dropped significantly, either because of their involvement in a criminal case, or the government taking back their weapons once they turned 60. Apart from this, many VDC members have surrendered their weapons in the absence of remuneration.

The fresh demand for arming civilians

The demand for revival of VDCs started after militant activities revived in areas where peace had returned long ago. A spurt was witnessed in infiltration attempts from across the border, and drones were used to drop weapons, explosives and cash at various places, especially in border areas of Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.

What do the police say about the current situation in the UT?

According to official figures, a total of 186 militants, including 56 foreigners, were killed in 98 successful encounters in J&K during 2022. The year saw a 37 per cent decline in local youth joining terror ranks, from the previous year.

Of the 100 youth who joined militancy in this period, 17 were arrested and 65 killed in encounters. Hunt is on for the remaining 18, said the police. Apart from this, the police have busted 146 terror modules, each comprising 4-5 people, and seized 188 AK series rifles, 275 pistols, eight M4 carbines, 354 grenades, 61 IEDs and sticky bombs, among others.

total of 649 people were booked under PSA for supporting militancy, while 55 vehicles were seized and 28 houses attached for being used for militant activity.

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