Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir and the people in general are divided when it comes to the utility of having the Village Defence Committees, which are under the spotlight after a local National Conference leader was shot dead allegedly by a VDC member in Rajouri last week.
The latest killing has given critics of VDCs in Muslim majority areas of Jammu the opportunity to seek their disbanding, arguing the organisation has outlived its relevance after the decline of militancy, and that there are as many as 196 registered cases against VDC members for rape, murder, arson and domestic violence.
However, others claim VDCs are still responsible for the safety of the Hindus in the area and that they play a significant role in combating militants.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party and its ally BJP have been giving discordant statements over the controversy surrounding the VDCs. The PDP is under pressure from the Kashmiri separatists to disband the VDCs. The BJP is supporting the VDCs. In fact, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been demanding that the committee members should be given the latest arms to counter threats from militants.
In Bhudal and Darhal areas of Rajouri, people are demanding the disbanding of VDCs, describing the latter as “armed criminal gangs”. “They have (allegedly) killed three persons, including a child, in the past week and they should be disarmed immediately. There is no militancy in our area. Why do we need them now?” asked Muhammad Ashraf of Darhal, Rajouri.
But a VDC member, Ramesh Kumar Bhagat of Kishtwar said: “We have been protecting our villages for the past two decades and have not committed any crime. Why should we be disbanded? People here have a lot of faith in us.” “We get a salary for the work we dom, but it is less compared to the work we have been doing,” Bhagat told this correspondent. He added that the VDCs will demand automatic weapons to fight militancy.
Ashok Kumar Bhagat of village Thakari in Kishtwar and other villagers of the area want VDCs to continue. “They are getting Rs 1,500 per month to feed their families and they protect our villages. We need them,” Kumar said.
In addition to the murder of the local NC leader, there are allegations that another VDC member killed a woman, Shameema Akhtar along with her four-year-old son Tawheed Ahmad in Rajouri.
Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said that VDCs were created by the Centre to suppress the Muslims of Jammu region. Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh of the BJP ruled out disbanding the VDCs, adding that the killing of the NC leader was an isolated incident.