For the last two decades, J&K’s security grid raised almost 29000 member army of VDCs across Jammu region by training and arming selective sections of the population. Kashmir Life analyzes the evolution of the extra-constitutional set-up that is in sharp focus at a time when these gunmen have started getting consumed by the culture they gave their life to.
Milestones that help understand Kashmir’s contemporary history better start with BJPs Ekta Yatra of 1990. As militants started massacring Hindus in Chenab Valley, it triggered Lal K Advani’s `save Doda yatra’ to Jammu in 1994 summer. More than 14000 right wing activists courted arrest (Advani included) to force the gubernatorial regime declare the mountainous region disturbed.
The argument was that once the area is declared disturbed, army will take over. There will be special laws in operation and a counter pressure on insurgents will help Hindu minority evade attacks. By then, entire Kashmir Valley and the twin Pir Panchal districts of Poonch and Rajouri were the disturbed areas leaving only Ladakh and four Jammu districts as normal.
The Narasimha Rao government in Delhi was against accepting the BJP demand that could help the party in the elections. So they settled for something else and it was the VDC – the village defense committee. As for disturbed area act, it was implemented by Advani, when he presided over a north block meeting on August 8, 2001 as Home Minister.
The frightening Kalashinkove rattling emerged on Srinagar streets in late 1988. Doda’s Gool belt was the first Jammu area that followed the suit somewhere in 1993. Only later, the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch with dangerous proximity to LoC, emerged on insurgent map. But the four Jammu districts including the Chenab Valley and the main Dogra heart-land created the worst of the headlines for many years as insurgents would intercept Hindu civilians, line them up and killed them – some while accompanying the just-married couples, many in their sleep.
The first massacre of 14 Hindus on Sarthal Road near Kishtwar on August 14, 1993 triggered a serious crisis. Within days a section of Hindus started migrating to Jammu. As the state government was busy managing the Kashmiri Pandits who left Kashmir in 1990, the possible repetition in Chenab Valley could have triggered a larger crisis. So everybody in the government was desperate to ensure that the trickle fleeing to plains from mountains must stop.
One way of tackling the region was to bring Chenab Valley into the ambit of disturbed area, a campaign that BJP launched. The government did not accept it. In a clear quid pro quo, the gubernatorial regime settled at the idea of helping the threatened population to have their own defenses. The promise marked the conclusion of the BJP campaign even as the Village Defence Committee (VDC) was introduced a year later.
The state government then remotely managed by New Delhi evolved Village Defense Group Scheme under a state home ministry order (Home-293 of 1995) on September 30. Justifying setting up of VDCs to manage active participation of local population in the security of the respective villages, and vital installations, the order said its members volunteering to the initiative will be provided arms and ammunitions. Initially 660 such groups were created in Jammu region and most of the members were Hindus. Officially, it was stated that Muslims were reluctant to be part of the initiative.
But the process of creating extra-constitutional set-up had started much earlier. It was early 1993 when the state police reappointed 200 ex-servicemen in Poonch and Rajouri as special police officials (SPOs). None of them was a Muslim and they were all deployed near the LoC. Soon after around 500 such appointments were made in Chenab Valley, mostly in Doda. Their efficiency as fighters was questionable to the extent that the then state police chief M N Saberwal in 1994 summer restructured the set-up and deployed them for intelligence gathering. Reappointment of these former soldiers had created such a serious security situation for their families that they had started migrating to Himachal.