Revival of VDCs in Jammu and Kashmir
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India Revives Controversial Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir

The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India has decided to revive the Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir. Aimed at curbing militancy in the Jammu region and for the protection of the Hindu community, VDCs are known for their notoriety. The government has rechristened these committees as Village Defence Guards Scheme (VDGs).

Origin of VDCs

The Indian government established VDCs in the mid-1990s when militancy was at its peak in Kashmir. Most of the infiltration would take place through the Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban, Rajouri, Reasi, Kathu and Poonch districts of the Jammu region. The government set up VDCs for self-defence of the Hindu community in remote villages of the region. They also aimed to report and fight militants/intruders that may be present in these remote villages. Since these villages have a difficult terrain and villagers are familiar with the terrain, VDCs were to complement the Indian Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police’s counterinsurgency measures.

VDCs mostly consisted of civilian villagers who wanted to voluntarily provide their services. They were provided proper training by the Indian Army from time to time. There are varying numbers of VDCs in different villages. Lately, VDCs have been declining due to the volunteer nature of the work. The government paid for their services but not in a systematic manner.


As of June 2016, there were 4,125 VDC volunteers in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of Jammu and Kashmir. They had killed/caught 14 militants since their inception in 1995.

Also read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

Controversies

VDCs have been found involved in a plethora of cases of rape, murder, riots and communal clashes, a fact accepted by the Jammu and Kashmir government. The data available presents a grim picture of the VDCs. According to several media reports, the total number of cases registered against VDCs stood at around 221 cases. These cases include 23 murders, 7 rapes, 15 cases of rioting and others.


Human rights groups have argued that VDCs are a bad way of handling counterinsurgency measures. Putting the responsibility of counterinsurgency in the hands of some civilians does not lead to good outcomes. The government arms them, making them responsible for the security, while they stand outside the formal network of security forces. In this condition, it is very difficult to hold them accountable for their misdeeds. Add to it the meagre amount of salary or no salary that they would get from the government.

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Rechristening of VDCs into VDGs

The Indian government has rechristened Village Defence Committees (VDCs) rechristened as Village Defence Guards Scheme (VDGs). The decision to revive the VDCs came after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders from Jammu and Kashmir insisted the central government revive them. According to an order, the VDG scheme aims to “organize a small group of volunteer armed civilians in the identified villages along the borders as well as in-depth areas of the Jammu division, with a view to instill a sense of self-protection and ensure the safety and security of such villages, infrastructural installations in and around them and to check the trans-border movement.” Under the said Scheme, the VDGs “shall be charged with the responsibility of protecting community installations, and infrastructure facilities within the defined areas of their village and the Village Defence Guards would conduct night and day patrolling in a systematic manner.”


Further, the government has also decided to pay VGDs systematically. In more vulnerable areas, the government will pay Rs 4500 (58 USD) per month to the persons leading/coordinating the VDG. Other persons, who are members of these VDGs on a voluntary basis, will be paid Rs 4000 (51 USD) per month. Further, VDGs will function under the direction of the Superintendent of Police (SP) or Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the concerned district.

Also read: India Gags-up Media in Kashmir

Some Questions Raised by VDGs

After the revocation of Article 370, the ruling government claimed that the move will end insurgency in the region. Over the subsequent years, the government has claimed that Kashmir is more peaceful than ever. The militancy is at its lowest. However, the revival of VDCs contradicts these claims. Kashmir-based politicians have raised questions over the revival of the VDCs and the government’s claim of peace.


There are also concerns that VDCs mostly recruit Hindu volunteers now. As claimed by several politicians and citizens, earlier Muslims also used to participate in VDCs, but they are mostly Hindu-majority now. Some politicians have claimed that the ruling party is arming its Hindu-right-wing supporters through VDCs.

It is pertinent to mention that the revival of VDCs comes at a time when the government is looking forward to holding assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

The track record of VDCs does not paint a good picture. Killing or catching 14 militants since 1995 while having more than 200 criminal cases registered against its members is a dismal track record.