The murder of a civilian by Village Defense Committee member in Rajouri area of Jammu province has once again put spotlight on the VDCs with political parties and human rights groups seeking their disbanding.
The murder of Ishtiyaq Ahmad in Kalakote Rajouri is one more addition to the long list of rights violations committed by the forces.
As many as 196 cases are registered against VDC personnel in different police stations of Jammu province, the details in possession of reveal.
Of them, 67 FIRs are registered in Doda district followed by Kishtwar (27 cases), Reasi (23), Udhampur (19), Rajouri (16), Ramban (13), Kathua (11), Poonch (10) and five each in Jammu and Samba districts. And the crimes committed by the men range from murder, abduction, rape, theft, rioting to domestic violence.
Senior National Conference leader Ali Muhammad Sagar said the time is ripe for disarming and disbanding the VDCs.
“What is their need when normalcy has been restored in the region and the violence has come down to all-time low? They should immediately handover their weapons to the police,” he said.
Convener of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), Khurram Parvez, said composition of the group is on religious lines.
“90-95 percent personnel of the militia belong to a particular community,” he claimed.
He said VDCs are indulging in massive human rights violations in Chenab and Pir Panchal regions of Jammu province.
“They have unleashed a reign of terror in the province,” he said, adding, “They indulge in crimes like murder, rape, rioting.”
When contacted, Inspector General of Police, Jammu range, Danish Rana, said the killing is an isolated incident of the misuse of weapons by VDCs.
“We will review the allotment of weapons to VDCs wherever we feel there is such need,” he said.
The VDCs were created in 1995 when State was under President’s Rule after outbreak of the armed conflict in late eighties.
According to the State Home Department, the VDCs were set up for the purpose of “self-defence as well as supplementing efforts of the forces to curb militancy and cross-border infiltration.”
“The Village Defence Group Scheme is not only meant to be an exercise inculcating an attitude of self-help in security matters amongst the local population, the aim is also to supplement the ongoing efforts of the security forces in dealing with militancy, acts of subversion and trans-border movements,” reads the order (No. 293-of 1995 dated 30-09-1995) issued by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) for sanctioning creation of VDCs.
The creation of VDCs was the brainchild of the former Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda, when he was posted as DIG Doda-Kishtwar range in early 90s.
According to sources, the State government pays Rs 16-20 crore annually to 26000 VDC personnel as honorarium. The honorarium is paid only to VDC personnel designated as SPOs; however, later it is equally distributed among all the members of VDCs.
The PDP-BJP government has already made it clear that it has no plans to disband VDCs in the region.
In a written reply in April this year, State Home Ministry informed the Legislative Council that there was no proposal to disband VDCs.
BJP has even set up a separate VDC cell – which is demanding their regularization and converting them into a separate force.
Salwa Judum, a counter-insurgency group set up by Chattisgarh government on the lines of VDCs and Ikhwan, was declared as illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The top Court directed the Chhattisgarh government to recover all the firearms, ammunition and accessories issued to them.
In September 2010, a VDC member was disarmed and arrested for allegedly making a rape bid on a girl in Bhaderwah. In July 2013, 4 persons including the brother of a Village Defence Committee (VDC) member were arrested after they kidnapped and raped a 15-year-old girl in Kuntwara, a remote village of Kishtwar district. In July this year, a VDC member was arrested for firing shots, triggering panic and terror among the people in Rajouri district.