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Jan 10, 2023

After Rajouri Attack, J&K Administration Speeds Up Weapons Training For Militia Groups

Members of the militia, known as 'Village Defence Guards', are being provided arms and other training to act as the “first line of defence” against the militancy.
CRPF jawans train village defence guards in Rajouri district of Jammu. Photo: Twitter/@jammusector

Srinagar: Days after the Rajouri terror attack, the J&K administration has begun providing arms training and weapons to raise a militia for containing the surge of militancy in the Jammu region under a new scheme which was approved by the Union home ministry last year.

The administration is holding special camps in parts of Rajouri district, where the members of the militia – known as Village Defence Guards (VDGs) – are being provided arms and other training to act as the “first line of defence” against the militancy.

“The process is being monitored at the police station level and, to begin with, we are conducting firing practice for the volunteers,” said senior superintendent of police (SSP), Rajouri, Mohd Aslam. He said that if there is any “inadequacy in terms of training or weapons”, “it will be addressed”.

The SSP said that the VDGs are being mobilised especially in the villages which fall along the forested areas of Rajouri or are home to the minority Hindu community. According to the 2011 Census, Rajouri district has 62.71% Muslim population while Hindus constitute 34.54%.

“The overall situation in the district has improved (after the attack). We have got additional forces for area domination which have restored a sense of peace and security among the people,” the SSP told The Wire.

The move comes days after the sensational twin attacks which left seven persons, including two brothers and two minors, dead in Dhangri village of Rajouri on January 1 and 2. The twin attacks have sparked a wave of anguish and panic in the minority community of the Pir Panjal region, which is emerging as a new hotbed of militancy.

Over the past two years, intermittent deadly attacks, both on civilians as well as security forces, have been reported from this region, which comprises Rajouri and Poonch districts. Four army soldiers were killed in a fidayeen attack last year in Rajouri’s Darhal.

In a sensational case, police also arrested Talib Hussain Shah, a BJP activist, in connection with militancy on July 3 last year. Although the party had distanced itself from the arrest, Shah, who was photographed with Union home minister Amit Shah, was described by police as a “wanted terrorist” and “Lashkar-e-Toiba commander”.

The latest attack in Rajouri has prompted the Union government to deploy 1,800 additional Central Reserve Paramilitary Force (CRPF) jawans in the region. Besides area domination, the CRPF will also assist the police for training the VDG volunteers in basic physical combat exercise and the usage of automatic weapons.

Sources said that six districts in Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal have been identified for the first phase of “re-enrgisation” of the VDGs in the Jammu division. Some reports indicate that VDGs in areas along the Line of Control in Samba and Jammu have also been put on alert ahead of the Republic Day celebrations.

What is a VDG?

The VDG scheme is a new avatar of the Village Defence Committees (VDC), a similar militia which was raised in Jammu in the aftermath of the massacre of 13 Hindus in Kishtwar in 1993. Two years later, the VDC policy was formalised by the J&K government on September 30, 1995 and notified on October 1, 1995.

Under the old policy, 10 to 15 “ex-servicemen, ex-policemen, and able bodied young men” were enrolled in each of the 660 VDCs formed in Jammu, Doda (including Kishtwar), Udhampur and Kathua districts. Later, VDCs were also set up in Poonch and Rajouri districts. Official data tabled in the J&K assembly in 2016 reveals that 27,924 civilians were working as volunteers in 4,248 VDCs across Jammu region.

With the militancy largely remaining confined to the Kashmir Valley, a semblance of calm returned to Jammu at the turn of the century and the idea of the VDCs started to turn obsolete. However, with weapons in their hands, there were allegations that VDC members started settling personal and political scores.

According to official data, 221 criminal cases have been filed against VDC members in Jammu – including 23 cases of murder and seven cases of rape, 15 cases of rioting, three anti-drug cases. Charges have been filed in 205 cases.

The vicious edge acquired by the VDCs forced the government to take back weapons from some of the militia members. Some VDC members had to return their weapons after turning 60, while others opted out of the militia due to remuneration issues.

The VDCs were formed in the aftermath of the Kishtwar massacre to stop the “second (out)migration” in J&K after the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. The Pandit exodus was triggered by communal attacks on the minority Hindu community. After the recent targeted killings of Hindus in Rajouri, the administration has hastened the process of arming the VDGs.

Security personnel and locals at the spot after an explosion at Dangri village in Rajouri district, January 2, 2023. Photo: PTI

‘Reenergising VDGs’

Although the final framework – such as the number of volunteers in each VDG group, the duration of training and the type of arms they will be trained to use – has not been formalised yet, sources said that the process has already started with the induction of additional CRPF personnel in Rajouri and Poonch districts.

While the old scheme envisioned a paltry sum of Rs 1,500 as the remuneration for the leader of a VDC, it has been hiked to Rs 4,500 per month. The other volunteers will get Rs 4,000 each per month. According to reports, the government will provide each VDG with a gun and 100 rounds of ammunition.

Under the old scheme, the VDCs were led by a Special Police Officer, the lowest rank in J&K Police. However, under the new scheme, the VDG groups will be led by an Army veteran or a retired security official who will work under the provisions of the district heads of police force.

The police in Rajouri, sources said, is reaching out to the members of erstwhile VDCs whose antecedents are being verified before their induction into the VDG groups. “These volunteers will be trained to engage and fight militants till the time security forces arrive at the spot. They will act as the first line of defence against militancy,” sources said.

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