Members of Village Defence Committees (VDCs) find themselves at the receiving end of a virulent campaign, following three killings in Rajouri district of Jammu region this week.
On Saturday, normal life in Kashmir was hit after separatists called for a shutdown demanding the VDCs be disbanded. A day earlier, protesters had taken to the streets in Srinagar and Kupwara demanding the immediate dispersal of these committees.
The public mood over VDCs has turned hostile since a mother-son duo was killed by a member on December 24, prompting separatist Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to remark that ”this terrorist force (VDC) was not created out of any need but for suppression of Jammu Muslims”.
Shamim Akhtar, a 36-year-old woman from Samote village and her four-year-old son were allegedly killed by Mushtaq Ahmad, a VDC member, using his service rifle. Police attributed the murder to personal rivalry between Mushtaq, a barber, and Akhtar’s family.
Earlier in the week, a youth leader of National Conference was allegedly killed by a VDC member in Kalakote over an altercation, triggering protests.
Four months ago, VDCs were hailed by many as “saviours” after its members helped in nabbing Pakistani LeT terrorist Muhammand Naveed in Udhampur.
The VDCs were formed in 1995 when the state was under President’s rule after Hindus were targeted by murderous mobs in Doda. In Rajouri and Poonch, many Muslims, including women, became members of the VDCs.
The Jammu region has about 25,000 VDC members. They are in 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 `3,000 a month and they stand a chance of getting a permanent police job. The three SPOs divide their salary equally.
“There is no question of disbanding them… If any army or police personnel does something wrong, will you disband them,” asked deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh, who promised to probe the allegations.
Officials say there were about 196 FIRs registered against VDC members in the 10-district of Jammu region, including in murder and rape cases.
“The VDC members, including Muslims, played a very important role in fighting militancy which can never be undermined. We will review their relevance and may disband at some places if needed,” said IG Jammu Danish Rana.
A senior BJP minister, wishing not to be named, said there was a sinister campaign against VDCs in the valley, especially by separatists. Opposition National Conference believes a rethink on the group is necessary.