Many parts of the Kashmir valley were shutdown on Saturday over protests demanding that village defence committees (VDCs) be disbanded following the killing of three people, including a 4-year-old boy, in the past week in Rajouri district.
Police have laid out concertina wires at many sensitive spots in the capital Srinagar to prevent further agitation against what protesters have termed the “terrorism” of VDCs. On Friday, protesters took to the streets in Kashmir’s summer capital as well as in the northern district of Kupwara demanding the immediate dispersal of these committees.
Shamim Akhtar, a 36-year-old woman from Samote village and her 4-year old son were killed by Mushtaq Ahmad, a VDC member, using his service rifle in Rajouri on Thursday. Police attributed the murder to personal rivalry between Mushtaq, a barber, and Akhtar’s family.
The double murder was the second instance of its kind since December 19 when another VDC member, Kewal Sharma, shot dead a National Conference youth leader, Ishtiyaq Choudhary, in Kalakote after an altercation over ration distribution.
Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani also called for the shutdown, terming the VDCs as an “illegal and terrorist force” indulging in “extreme form of state terrorism”.
Clashes were sparked in Maisuma locality of Srinagar after Friday’s prayers following detention of Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, along with some of his supporters.
A sub-divisional police officer was injured during these clashes between police and youth. The officer was hit by a stone in his face and was immediately rushed to AIIMS, New Delhi for specialized treatment.
The main opposition National Conference assailed the ruling People’s Democratic Party-Bhartiya Janata Party (PDP-BJP) coalition for using VDCs as “political militia to silence dissent”.
Government rules out disbanding VDCs
The Jammu and Kashmir government, however, has ruled out disbanding of these committees, saying they have played a “major role in stamping out militancy and defending population in the remote and rural areas of the state.”
“These are irrelevant demands. If an Army soldier or a policeman does something bad, will Army and Police be disbanded?,” said senior BJP leader and deputy chief minister, Dr Nirmal Singh.
The BJP is demanding that VDCs be converted into a separate force
The village defence committees were constituted by the government at the peak of militancy during the early nineties. As many as 26,000 personnel were given arms to take on militants in hilly districts of Doda, Kishtwar, Reasi, Udhampur, Rajouri, Ramban, Kathua, Poonch, Jammu and Samba. They were divided into more than 4,100 groups.
Officials said that 196 cases of murder, rape, abduction, spreading terror and others have been registered against VDC personnel in these districts.