Srinagar, India, Jan 13 (EFE).- The Indian government has begun arming civilians in the Hindu-majority Jammu area of Indian Kashmir, as authorities seek to curb an increase in insurgent attacks.
Interior Minister Amit Shah visited the region on Friday to review existing security measures, after at least six people were killed in a shooting and two blasts within a span of two days in a town in Jammu’s Rajouri district.
Following the attacks, the Indian government, which governs the region after ending its semi-autonomy in 2019, revived its Village Defence Committees (VDC) program to arm local volunteers against militancy.
Formed at the end of the 1990s in response to the rise of separatist insurgency, which seeks independence from the region or annexation to neighboring Pakistan, this program was dissolved during a recent period of relative tranquility.
“After years of normalcy in the region, militant activities have re-emerged,” Rajouri’s Deputy Inspector General of Police, Haseeb Mughal, said at a recent press conference.
The old VDCs have been re-named as Village Defence Guards (VDGs) and people are rapidly joining in, authorities said.
“We are re-organising and training the VDG members to prevent any further terrorist attacks,” Mughal said.
Other districts of Jammu, the Hindu-dominated area of Muslim-majority Kashmir, are also seeing a revival of these militia groups armed with automatic rifles, in what is already one of the most militarized regions on the planet.
“The CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) is providing armed training to VDGs in the Poonch and Doda districts as well,” a police officer, who asked not to be named, told EFE.
Ranjan, a member of the newly formed VDG in Rajouri district, told EFE that this initiative has become necessary to “safeguard ourselves.”
His two sons-in-law have also joined the VDGs in the neighboring district of Poonch, said Ranjan, one of the several dozens of people present when the Interior Minister Friday called and spoke to the relatives of those killed in the Rajouri attacks.
Sonu, another member of the VDG, told EFE that armed civilians are prepared to repel any “misadventure” from neighboring Pakistan.
“We are ready to teach Pakistan a lesson and we won’t allow any more killings here,” Sonu said.
An local administrative officer, who asked not to be named, informed EFE that VDG members will receive a monthly payment of around 4,000 rupees ($50).
The original VDCs were created in 1999 for self defense of the locals against the rise of insurgency, in a region that Pakistan and India have fought for since independence from the British Empire in 1947.
However, the VDCs were criticized by human rights groups, which accused these volunteers of murders, robberies and rapes.
The decision to reconvene the extinct armed groups of civilians, albeit under a new name, has been criticized in the region.
“Providing weapons to local commoners of border districts contradicts the government’s claims of normalcy in the region,” former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, recently told reporters.
One of the reasons given by the Indian government for ending the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir was to bring “peace and development” to the region. EFE