Who needs VDCs?

Arshid Malik

VDC members getting weapon training from army.
VDC members getting weapon training from army.

The establishment seems to be receiving a dose of its own of medicine. I am talking about Village Defence Committees. Well, you had given weapons to ordinary citizens to use them as a force against your “enemies” they are bound to misuse them against the very people they were supposed to protect. But this is true all over the world. All countries creating “armies” out of civilians had to bear the brunt of it once the “army” had nothing else to do, for instance, the Taliban.

During the armed insurgency in Kashmir, the establishment had deemed that civilian armed committees be setup to protect threatened communities from armed insurgents. The idea turned into a reality back in 1995—when militant killed a dozen people in Baderwah tehsil.

Soon VDCs turned into a major counter-insurgency force in these areas. A VDC comprise 8-12 members, depending upon the number of villages to be manned. After Baderwah tehsil of Doda district, the idea was adopted for Poonch, Rajouri and Udhampur. Now, since the VDC was meant to counter insurgency, especially in the higher reaches of Jammu, they were bound to be targeted by militants. And that’s what happened. There were scores of attacks on VDC members. Many were killed.

The VDC members were mostly ex-servicemen. They were selected after some screening (too ordinarily for someone to be hired as a counteragent of the state machinery to fight insurgency). The selected ones were taken to the police lines in their respective districts, imparted training in handling a .303 rifle for a month.

After completing the “training” these people were briefed, rolled out to patrol villages and “protect” “threatened” communities. With VDC chief designated as a Special Police Officer (SPO), we had another army in place with all sorts of head bangers, nit wits and what nots—all in the name of fighting insurgency.

Armed with .303 rifles, meant for long range and lethal attacks, the VDCs became vital attack weapons with the government machinery. But ever since militancy in J&K down-scaled especially in the upper reaches of Jammu region, the VDCs became irrelevant. But nothing was done by the government to debrief, de-weaponize these agents of the state.

Since a common man had a weapon at his or her disposal with nothing to do with it, they started shooting people in personal rivalry. These trigger-happy “gentlemen” started shooting the very people they were supposed to protect back in the 90s—besides killing members of the Muslim community, they fanned communal tensions in these areas.

Now, a VDC member has shot dead a youth political leader in Rajouri over an alleged altercation over ration distribution in the area. And then, a mother-son duo became a prey, triggering ‘Disband VDC’ debate. But the fresh VDC terror looks just a tip of an iceberg. What about blast from the past? What about 300 odd cases of loot, arson and murder slapped on VDCs?

The fact is VDCs aren’t VDCs anymore. They have turned into goons acting in alliance with Hindu fascist forces to stoke communal tensions in J&K. Even successive governments have resorted to fence-sitting by doing absolutely nothing to disband these plunderers. The stand of the present dispensation on VDCs is equally criminal.

So, with VDCs becoming irrelevant, time has come to shoo them away—unless, yes, either state or centre has plans to manufacture discontent. But everything aside, VDC must go to resurrect the minorities.


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