The Union government will re-establish village defence committees (VDCs) in Jammu to fight militancy, provide hi-tech weapons and ensure equal salary to its members, top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have said in Jammu.
“A meeting was called by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi recently with us. It was decided that VDCs will be re-established with a changed nomenclature. They will be called ‘village defence groups’ now. We have demanded hi-tech weapons for them so that Pakistan’s designs can be foiled,” J&K BJP general secretary and Kashmir in-charge Sunil Sharma said in Jammu.
Charges of misuse
The VDCs were constituted in 1995 in 10 districts of the Jammu region to fight militants in far-off places. Around 26,567 locals were recruited into them. Most of the VDCs were disbanded by the previous governments following allegations of misuse of weapons in several cases.
However, Mr. Sharma credited the VDCs with fighting the terrorists and stopping migration of locals from peripheries in the wake of several killings by the terrorists, especially in 2001.
“Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Home Minister L.K. Advani then supported the Doda Bachao Andolan. These VDCs fought terrorists and many VDC members were also killed. However, they managed to tackle terrorism and foil Pakistan’s designs,” Mr. Sharma said.
He rued that no formal policy was in place for these committees so far and many members were forced to surrender their weapons in police stations. “Earlier, only three members of a VDC were given the salary of a special police officer (SPO), who would then distribute the salary among other members. However, all members will get equal salary now. Those who have not received salaries will also get money now,” Mr. Sharma said.
He said nomads, who live in Dhoks or mud huts in the upper reaches, would also be allowed to form such defence groups.
Formal order soon
“We expect a formal order on village defence groups soon from the Union Home Ministry. We thank both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the measures. Especially, I want to thank Director General of Police Dilbag Singh for pleading the case of VDCs,” Mr. Sharma said.
Former Chief Minister and People Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti has criticised the move. “The MHA’s move to form village defence committees across J&K is another addition to a slew of decisions that contradict GoI’s (Government of India) much-touted normalcy claims. Clearly, J&K is far from any semblance of normalcy. It will also create a wedge between communities,” Ms. Mufti said.
There had been growing opposition among the political class towards the VDCs after its members allegedly resorted to violence against villagers. In one instance in 2015, a VDC member from Rajouri’s Mohra Dhaveen village killed a woman and her four-year-old son in Samote village. The same year, a National Conference (NC) youth leader, Ishtyaq Choudhary, was shot dead by Kewal Kumar Sharma, a VDC member, in Rajouri’s Kalakote area.
According to official figures, VDC members faced around 160 cases related to several crimes, including kidnap and rape. It also came in for criticism for alleged partisan recruitment, with members from a particular community getting recruited more than the other. .