The matchless courage of village defence committees was back in focus after members of the unsung vigilante force helped repulse a terror attack on an Udhampur police outpost on Thursday night.
Known popularly by the acronym, VDCs were formed in 1995 when Jammu and Kashmir was under President’s rule during the height of militancy in the state.
Over the past two decades, these volunteers have kept terrorism at bay in the Jammu region with their bravery and native intelligence compensating for the lack of weapons, training and incentives.
“It is a very effective force in countering terrorism, acting as a force multiplier,” said Gareeb Dass, the deputy inspector general of police, Kupwara.
The rural volunteers set a ring of resistance against armed militants, giving scores of Hindus from Doda, Kishtwar and Rajouri districts the courage to stay put rather than flee their militancy-hit homeland.
“VDC was instrumental in ending the cycle of massacres, selective killings of the minority community, in the Doda region. It is the bulwark of counter-insurgency,” said Dass, who was earlier posted in the Doda-Kishtwar region.
When VDCs were set up to plug holes in the security setup and instill a sense of security among villagers, the part of the drill was a basic but unique warning system: one whistle at night means time to pick up the gun; two whistles indicate approaching militants.
The two whistles were rare over the past few years in the Jammu region, which has been relatively quiet. But back-to-back terror attacks in Udhampur have brought VDC volunteers back in business.
A day before Thursday’s police outpost strike, Pakistani militants ambushed a BSF convoy ion the national highway. The local VDC was among the security team that secured one of the attackers, Mohammad Naveed, after being captured by two villagers he had taken hostage.
The Jammu region has about 25,000 VDC members, each comprising a group of eight with three special police officers (SPOs) who get a police uniform and an assault rifle. The SPOs are paid a consolidated salary of R3,000 a month and they stand a chance of getting a permanent police job, too.
The three SPOs divide their salary equally within the group, meaning each of them gets a tad over Rs 1,000.
“At the height of militancy when terrorists moved freely and threatened locals, we volunteered to fight them. We provided information, logistics and even joined operations in eliminating terrorists. Many of us died. We are targeted by terrorists but the government doesn’t show any concern for us,” said a VDC member from Doda.
The future of the VDCs was in doubt, too, as separatist leaders such as Sayeed Ali Shah Geelani have been leading the clamour to disband them after the 2013 Kishtwar communal violence.
Geelani has dubbed VDCs as an arm of the Hindu right-wing RSS. The government has stood by the courageous volunteers, though.