The government first created a militia force in Kashmir in the mid-1990s as a first line of defence when the uprising against Indian rule was at its peak. About 25,000 men and women, including teenagers and some Muslims, were given weapons and organised into village defence committees in the Jammu region
NEW DELHI — The Central government is arming Hindu villagers in Kashmir to combat militancy in the Muslim-majority region, a recent Agence France-Presse report said. These militias are being armed and trained by Indian forces to fight off attacks by militant outfits.
India has more than half a million soldiers permanently deployed in the Kashmir areas it controls.
Brandishing a bolt-action rifle, civil servant Sanjeet Kumar is one of 5,000 Kashmir villagers who have joined the militia units, announced by the authorities last year.
Kumar said a deadly assault by pro-independence groups in his frontier village in January prompted him to sign up.
“We were totally terrorised by the attack,” the 32-year-old municipal worker in the electricity department was quoted by AFP as saying.
Wearing a saffron-coloured tilak on his forehead to mark himself as a member of the Hindu faithful, Kumar said he was ready and able to defend his home.
“Anyone who turns a traitor to our nation is my target,” he said.
The AFP report said the new militia units, known as Village Defence Guards, were launched last year in the wake of a string of murders targeting police officers and Hindu residents of Kashmir.
Muslims are concerned that the armed Hindu militia will exacerbate Kashmir’s problems.
“My worry is about the way weapons are now being distributed among only one community,” said one elderly Muslim living in Dhangri, who asked not to be named.
“Now weapons are being brandished around by young ones. This is not good for any one of us,” he told AFP. “I sense a growing tension.”
One Indian paramilitary officer said the newly armed Hindu villagers were on such a constant state of alert that his unit informed them beforehand of their night patrol so that they were not accidentally mistaken for militants and fired upon.
“The purpose is to create a line of defence, not a line of attack,” Kanchan Gupta of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting told AFP.
New Delhi first created a militia force in Kashmir in the mid-1990s as a first line of defence when the uprising against Indian rule was at its peak.
About 25,000 men and women, including teenagers and some Muslims, were given weapons and organised into village defence committees in the Jammu region.
Rights groups accused members of these committees of committing atrocities against the civilian population.
The militias were blamed for committing at least 210 incidents of murder, rape and extortion, according to official records. But only less than two per cent of defendants were convicted.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attempting to crush a decades-long pro-independence movement in the valley. It revoked Kashmir’s self-autonomy in 2019, a move described by Pakistan as illegal.
Rights groups say arbitrary detentions and killings by Indian troops are leading to a range of human rights violations, a charge New Delhi vehemently rejects.