An attempt to Kill the Village Defence Committees
Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)
In just three weeks the Kishtwar riots have entered the penumbra of media attention. Before they fade from memory, certain points need to be made. These riots are a vivid reminder of expulsion of nearly four lakh Pandits from the Valley. Resemblance is uncanny. The same Hurriyat leaders who had engineered the expulsion of Pandits from the Valley have been behind inciting the Kishtwar riots.
There were two prominent players involved in cleansing out Pandits from the Kashmir Valley. One is Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was the Amir of Jamait-e-Islami which controlled the network of mosques in Srinagar. It was these mosques that broadcast the message 24 hours a day to terrorise the Pandits. The message as translated from Kashmiri was: “We do not want Pandits in Kashmir. We just want their women.” Its ominous import was unmistakable. Little wonder that Pandit families with young women were the first ones to run away. The other leader was Muhammad Yasin Malik who led his then underground group JKLF in carrying out selective target killing of prominent Pandits. This added to the terrorisation and accelerated the exodus. The Hurriyat has cleverly kept a few Hindus and Sikhs for window dressing to give their ‘freedom struggle’ a façade of secularism. These minorities are intended to be kept safe only till the ‘freedom’ is attained and then they along with the Shia Muslims will meet the same fate as the Pandits. Kashmir Valley is envisaged to become a 100 per cent Sunni fundamentalist State, another North Waziristan, whenever it suits Pakistan or its acolyte, the Hurriyat leaders.
The fact that the Hindus of erstwhile Doda District which includes Kishtwar did not meet the same fate is thanks only to one factor, the Village Defence Committees (VDC) that the threatened hamlets and villages formed. These were then armed and played a major role in preventing the exodus of Hinds from that district as also in keeping the Jammu province safe. No security force can provide protection to every family in isolated villages. VDCs did a commendable job in that role. They not only secured their villages, but also kept the ‘freedom struggle’ away from the Jammu province. That essentially kept the insurgency confined to the Kashmir Valley, despite Pakistan’s best efforts. Consequently, the VDC were the favourite target of the terrorists and their overground supporters and they lost many lives. Under pressure from what India calls separatists but essentially Pakistani agents, the politicians of the Valley have never been very sympathetic to the VDCs. Mufti Muhammad Saeed of PDP had in fact tried to disband them when he became the Chief Minister. .
Now the Hurriyat which had no presence in south of the Valley, has made disbandment of VDCs a major issue in order, as it says, to remove the sense of insecurity among the Muslims of the area. That demand is obviously inspired by Pakistan whose every action since the beginning of this year points towards the revival of the ‘freedom struggle’. The recent riots in Kishtwar have provided them a pretext to rake up the issue though no VDC had taken part in them. Being located in villages, VDCs were not even present in Kishtwar town. There was only one death by gunfire and the victim was one Arvind Kumar. Yet, the finger pointing at VDCs continues.
Though the VDCs are the responsibility of the State Govt, the Army has a vital stake in them. No Army can provide protection to every house and hamlet in the sparsely populated mountainous region. Nor can the Army block all the routes of ingress through Pir Panjal into Jammu province and that province will become vulnerable. Pir Panjal range also has major infiltration routes from Pakistan.
If the VDCs are disarmed or their capabilities degraded in way, the entire mountain population of Jammu province will be at grave risk. They may have no choice but to escape to the suburbs of Jammu like Pandits did. That would add to the problem, that Pakistan deliberately tries to create by targeting the civil population along the LoC and even the international border. Once a terrorised population abandons their homes, their return is impossible, just as it happened in the case of Pandits. All the talk of rehabilitating them back in their ancestral homes in the Valley is either naïve or dishonest. The facts on the ground once created can seldom be changed. No debates in Parliament and long speeches in New Delhi will be able to undo the migration. Saving Kishtwar means saving Jammu province and saving Jammu province means saving India. And the VDCs are the key to doing so.