Nighat Bano was always afraid of the dark. She has conquered the fear with the help of a rifle.
Women across remote and inaccessible hamlets of J&K’s Poonch, Rajouri and Doda-Kishtwar belt have taken to the gun, to train as shooters and ambush militants. Their compulsion: the need to save their families, particularly children, from terrorist attacks.
Rewind to 1990, when militants started creating a fear psychosis among villagers who were opposed to their ideology. It was not death alone but rape, molestation and physical indignity inflicted upon women, the obvious and easy targets.
Though the state government introduced the Village Defence Committee in 1996, it was conceived as an all-men panel, till 2002 when Khatun Begum stood up to terrorists at Kulali village near the picturesque Bafliaz in Poonch district.
She died but before that Khatun Begum instilled in women the need to arm themselves. It is therefore not surprising that the first all-women defence committee was formed in her village. This was followed by Murrah, its neighbour. And by 2003, when the ceasefire was announced, these women-led committees had become a force to reckon with.
“It was, after all,” as Shenaz, a VDC member in Kishwar village in Nowshera said, “a battle for dignity. We could not be mute spectators to physical atrocities and indignity. We took to the gun and gave the invaders a run for their money.”
Army sources dub women VDCs as the “backbone of success” in Operation Hill Kaka in Poonch district a few years ago. Last year, the Army’s Dashmesh Battalion surveyed villages near the LoC and handpicked women of Sariya village for training.
This year, the battalion organised a firing training camp at Nowshera that was attended by 59 women. Police in Kalakote organised a similar programme. Ask army officers and they confirm that “armed and determined women have helped check attacks”, to quote Colonel SD Goswami in Jammu.
“They have turned the tables against the militants. What’s more, now even young girls are ready to take to arms training irrespective of the militancy,” added another, on condition of anonymity.
The recent incidents of infiltration from across the LoC and the continuous ceasefire violations have heightened fears that militants would again descend on the villages and unleash a bloody battle. Therefore it is “time to re-energise and reactivate women-led committees”, says K Rajendra, IGP, Jammu.
Says Nighat Bano: “I was terrified of moving without male members but now I am fearless.”
We can handle light machine guns, self-loading rifles and even AK-47s, boast the women who feel they have got a new lease of life.
Ironically, it’s guns that have given them one.