Six civilians, including two children, were killed in brutal acts of terrorism in Dangri in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri in the first week of the new year. The police and authorities in Srinagar and New Delhi remain tight-lipped about the incidents. It is evident that the perpetrators intended to spread maximum terror among the Hindus in the area. They barged into houses on January 1 and fired indiscriminately, killing four civilians and injuring 10 others. Just within 15 hours, an improvised explosive device went off outside the house of one of the victims, leaving two minors dead and five others injured. The Jammu region has been relatively insulated from the conflict in recent years, but the recent incidents portend the return of a grim past. Rajouri had turned peaceful, and the last major targeting of Hindus was 16 years ago. It has a long penetrable Line of Control with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and remained an active route for militants to cross over to the Kashmir Valley. In 2022, there were clear signs that the district was becoming a new theatre of violence, with at least four grenade attacks, and multiple encounters between security forces and militants. There were also indications of local involvement.
J&K parties in one voice condemned the attack on minorities and targeted the Lieutenant Governor (LG)’s administration for its failure to secure civilians. LG Manoj Sinha has promised strict action to curb terrorism and address the security needs of the region. There is fresh demand to revive Village Defence Committees, which were constituted in 1995 in 10 districts of the Jammu region to fight militants in remote places where security presence is thin. These were disbanded following allegations of high-handedness by armed volunteers. While the Centre is eager to portray its strong-arm policy in Kashmir that has shunned political dialogue as a success, new trends in terrorism, including frequent targeting of migrant workers in the Union Territory, act as grim reminders of the volatility. At least 29 civilians were killed in J&K in 2022, most of them migrant workers or local Hindus. While new experiments may yield different results in J&K, the old approach to allow multiple processes of engagement to address issues in a democratic way might still work. In the absence of an elected government in J&K since 2018, even the mainstream of the region is drifting away from New Delhi. A continuing political process is not a sufficient guarantee against Pakistan-backed terrorism, but it is a necessary condition in any resolution of the Kashmir conflict.