Supreme Court’s Judgment against Salwa Judum can be a guiding force
When the Supreme Court of India declared recruitment of tribals into anti-Maoist militias in Chhattisgarh, illegal few years back in 2011, the Jammu & Kashmir Government had a great opportunity to start disarming its Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in a phased manner. The anti-Maoist militia also know as Salwa Judum which means ‘Peace March’ in Gondi language was created in 2005 by the Government of Chattisgrah. The idea of creating Salwa Judum was not an innovative idea of Chattisgrah Government. In-fact this idea was taken from Kashmir security experts and J&K Government, who already had raised this force in mid 1990s across state in the form of Village Defence Committees (VDCs) and Ikhwan. The poor and illiterate tribal youth of Chattisgrah were armed to take on well trained Maoists for a small sum. During this process the conflict in Chhattisgarh turned into a civil war by pitting tribals against each other. Instead of controlling the Maoist activities, creation of Salwa Judum increased the violence to unprecedented levels. Same violence we had already witnessed in mid 1990s in J&K as Ikhwan and VDC men were involved in loot and plunder across state. The Government led by Omar Abdullah was competent enough to disband the VDCs after 2011 judgment of Supreme Court, but instead of taking such initiative, previous Government tried to legalize them by incorporating the provision of Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in the Model Police Bill which was to be placed before state legislature during 2013 budget session.
The draft Police Bill was made public by Omar Abdullah Government on 15th February 2013. The Civil society, Hurriyat, and some mainstream political parties including Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had opposed the move. After some days whole of Kashmir was on a boil in the aftermath of Afzal Guru’s hanging in Tihar jail. Curfew was clamped for more than a week by the authorities in Srinagar and other major towns of the valley. People felt that government apparently sought to use the situation to formally introduce the abhorrent Draft Police Bill that would have turned J&K into a police state. But the government didn’t go ahead as they sensed public anger and agitations. Had that unrest not taken place the VDCs would have been given legal protection.
Demand for modern weapons to VDCs:
In August 2001 when Farooq Abdullah was the Chief Minister of J&K, he had urged upon New Delhi to provide automatic weapons for Village Defence Committees (VDCs) to help villagers defend themselves against militants. A news item which was carried in Times of India on 18th August 2001 reads: "I will soon take up the matter with the Home Minister relating to the supply of automatic weapons to Village Defence Committees" (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Farooq-demands-arms-for-villagers/articleshow/1382969116.cms). He had further said that the committees have been in existence for a number of years and are partly funded and armed by the state government. He added that their (VDC’s) current weapons were no match for the increasingly sophisticated arms used by militant groups, and the Home Minister will also be requested to consider the supply of wireless sets for the committees to allow prompt communication about militant attacks.
I would appeal political parties especially the opposition to stop using massacre of three innocent people at the hands of VDC to score political goals. It is your leadership which strengthened these forces in past. What is the justification of having these committees in areas where militancy graph has come down? The last militant attack took place in April 2010 in Daroti area of Kalakote, since then not a single incident has taken place around Kalakote. Similarly in Budhal area where VCD member killed a lady and her 5 year old son is also not a militancy prone area now. So there is no question to continue VDCs in these areas. I also appeal ruling PDP to fulfill its promise of not allowing Ikhwan and VDC culture in J&K. When NC led Government had tried to bring new Police Bill in 2013, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti had out-rightly opposed it on the plea that it was going to legalize VDCs. I hope this is the time to act and the Supreme Court’s ruling against Salwa Judum can be a guiding force for the Government to start the process of disarming these militias.