After militants killed six people in two days in the village of Jammu and Kashmir, locals have demanded that they be provided weapons to take on attackers. Responding to the demands, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha assured the people that they would get a Village Defence Committee (VDC) on the lines of those in Doda district.
What is a Village Defence Committee (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 J&K administration decided to provide residents of remote hilly villages with weapons and give them arms training to defend themselves.
- The new scheme to set up VDGs in vulnerable areas of J&K was approved by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in March 2022.
- Like a VDC member, each VDG will be provided a gun and 100 rounds of ammunition.
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.
How are Village Defence Guards (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.
- The VDGs will function under the direction of the SP/SSP of the district concerned.
What was the contribution of VDCs in the fight against militants?
- During the peak of militancy in most parts of Jammu division, 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 J&K Legislative Assembly in 2016, 27,924 civilians were serving in 4,248 VDCs across the state.
- After the peace returned, there were demands from certain quarters to disband the VDCs in 2002.
- 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.
Why there is fresh demand for arming civilians?
- Revival of attacks targeting minorities and non-locals —
- Recent terror attacks in J&K have targeted minorities and non-locals.
- This targeted killing is aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear and damaging communal harmony.
- This has revived the memories of the mass exodus of minority communities that took place in the early 1990s
- Shift in strategy & new challenges in front of security agencies —
- Almost all civilian killings have been carried out by newly recruited terrorists or those about to join the ranks.
- Previously, full-time militants used to go missing from their villages or advertise themselves on social media. Thus, it was easy to track them.
- On the other hand, these part-timers are difficult to track.
- These neo-recruits of hybrid terrorists who beat surveillance with one-off attacks, helps Pakistan-based masterminds maintain deniability.
- Nearly all civilian killings were carried out using pistols. These weapons were brought in using drones from across the border.
- The pistols were delivered to these neo-recruits by Pakistani handlers specifically for the strikes and later taken back.
- This allowed them to conveniently return to their homes in populated neighbourhoods.