Village Defence Committees

After militants killed six people in two days in the Upper Dangri village of Jammu and Kashmir this week, locals have demanded that they be provided with weapons to take on attackers.

  • In response, the Lt Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, and the Director General of Police, Dilbagh Singh, have assured the people that they will be provided with a Village Defence Committee (VDC), similar to those in the Doda district.

What are Village Defence Committees (VDCs)?

  • VDCs were first formed in the Doda district (now comprising the Kishtwar, Doda, and Ramban districts) in the mid-1990s as a force multiplier against militant attacks. In an effort to defend themselves against militants, the Jammu and Kashmir administration decided to provide residents of remote, hilly villages with weapons and arms training.
  • These VDCs have since been renamed as Village Defence Guards (VDGs). In March 2020, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs approved a new scheme to set up VDGs in vulnerable areas of Jammu and Kashmir. Like VDC members, each VDG will be provided with a gun and 100 rounds of ammunition.

Differences Between VDGs and VDCs

  • Both VDGs and VDCs are groups of civilians provided with guns and ammunition to tackle militants until the arrival of security forces. Under the new scheme, the leaders of VDGs will be paid INR 4,500 (approximately $62) per month by the government, while others will receive INR 4,000 (approximately $55) each.
  • In VDCs, only the Special Police Officers (SPOs) leading them were provided with a remuneration of INR 1,500 (approximately $20) per month. SPOs are the lowest rank in the Jammu and Kashmir Police and are usually retired army, paramilitary, or police personnel.

Control of VDGs

  • VDGs will function under the direction of the Superintendent of Police/Senior Superintendent of Police of the relevant district.

Composition of VDCs

  • A minimum of 10-15 ex-servicemen, ex-policemen, and able-bodied local youth were enrolled in each VDC on a voluntary basis. On average, at least five of them were provided with .303 rifles and 100 rounds each, through the District Superintendent of Police.
  • The allocation of weapons could increase depending on the credentials of the volunteers, the total population of a village, and its security requirements, as assessed by the District Magistrate and Senior Superintendent of Police.

Why were VDCs Created?

  • The demand for arming the civilian population first arose after the massacre of 13 people in Kishtwar in 1993. As the killings increased, leading to the migration of Hindus from villages to nearby towns, the Home Ministry decided to set up VDCs in an attempt to stop this exodus.
  • The scheme was later expanded to other areas of the Jammu division as militants extended their activities to the Udhampur, Reasi, Rajouri, Poonch, Kathua, and Samba districts.
  • Contribution of VDCs in the Fight Against Against Against Against Against against Militants During the peak of militancy in most parts of the Jammu division, particularly in the Chenab Valley, Pir Panjal region, the hills of Udhampur and Reasi, and the Kathua district, VDCs played a significant role in combating militancy.
  • They were the most-feared armed groups among militants in areas where poor road networks delayed the arrival of security forces. The villagers, who were familiar with the local topography, were able to avert many militant attacks and helped in their capture and killings.

Controversies Surrounding VDCs

  • Along with their successes, VDCs also faced criticism and controversy. Some members were accused of human rights violations and extortion, leading to the disbandment of VDCs in Doda and Kishtwar districts in 2002. In 2010, the Jammu and Kashmir government decided to disband all VDCs and absorb their members into the police force as Special Police Officers (SPOs).
  • However, after a series of militant attacks in the region, the government reversed its decision and reinstated the VDCs in 2012.

VDCs/VDGs have played a significant role in combating militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, acting as a force multiplier against militant attacks. However, they have also faced controversy and criticism, leading to their disbandment and reinstatement over the years. The recent decision to provide the Upper Dangri village with a VDC in response to recent militant attacks highlights the ongoing need for such measures in certain areas of Jammu and Kashmir. It remains to be seen how effective the new VDGs will be in addressing the concerns of locals and providing protection against militants.

Written by IAS POINT

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