The lop-sided recruitment of village defence committees (VDCs) favouring a particular community and their role in recent communal riots in Jammu region has the cry for its review and reorganisation getting shriller first time since their inception in early 1990s.
Kashmir's known human rights groups, J&K Coalition of Civil Society (CCS), has accused the VDCs of rape of a 16-year-old girl in Kistwar's Kuntwara, area and murder of a person in Doda's Thatri area in July-August only.
"The unabated support and encouragement to the VDCs ensured deepening communal strife. The policy to control people through armed forces has resulted in informal and formal networks of forces as VDCs, special police officers [SPOs] and Ikhwans," said CCS coordinator Khurram Pervez.
He alleged that arms were distributed among the VDC members, minus any training. "People appointed as VDC members, SPOs or Ikhwans, have little or no clarity of the chain of command to control the activities of such forces," he added.
In all, 26,567 people are working with the VDCs to fight militancy in 10 districts of Jammu division and Leh district of Ladakh. The rights body pointed out lopsided recruitment in the VDCs. According to official figures, Kishtwar (with 35:65 ratio of Hindu-Muslims), the VDCs have 96.56% Hindu members.
In Doda district (with Hindus-Muslims ratio at 30:70), 90.08% VDC members are from the minority community. Similarly in Ramban district (Hindus-Muslims ratio at 30:70), 92.96% of the VDC members are Hindus.
With intelligence reports suggesting that the VDCs played a "negative role" and did participate in rioting in recent Kishtwar communal flare-up has the VDCs under the scanner. Three people died in the communal clashes and dozens of vehicles and structures were gutted.
While chief minister Omar Abdullah has promised "to review the functioning of these committees once Kisthwar stabilises", his father and union minister Farooq Abdullah reportedly told a cabinet meeting in Delhi that VDCs comprised "communal elements and required corrective measures".
Even ruling coalition partner, Congress' state president Saifuddin Soz, and opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) have called for a review and necessary action in the issue. "These VDCs were the brainchild of Farooq sahib. The time has come to disband them, which may give rise to unemployment. So these people should be accommodated suitably," said PDP president Mehbooba Mufti.
The rights body describes the VDCs as "privatisation of human rights abuses and the outsourcing of criminality in violation to many international laws India's constitution".
"The powers of the SPOs must be limited to minor issues of traffic control, and they must have no powers vis-à-vis the control of militancy or any political activity. They should be disbanded," said the CCS coordinator.
Hardline Hurriyat chairperson Syed Ali Shah Geelani has asked for a shutdown on Saturday against the VDCs. "We will not call off our struggle and continue our protest till the committees are dissolved," he said.
"The administration is scared of the RSS and Sangh Parivar. Omar, for the sake of existence of his government, is exhibiting reluctance and avoiding action against the main culprits," said the 83-year-old separatist leader.