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Why India’s revival of civil militias in Kashmir is raising fears

When New Delhi stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its limited autonomy in 2019, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government defended the move, claiming it will wipe out a decades-old armed rebellion in the disputed region.

Three years later, the same government is reviving a civilian militia, called the Village Defence Guards (VDGs), in the region’s southern Jammu area.

The move came shortly after seven Hindu civilians were killed in the area two months ago – a sign of growing anti-India sentiments in the country’s only Muslim-majority region, also claimed by neighbouring Pakistan.

What is VDG?

First established in 1995 in the districts of Jammu area, the VDGs (then known as Village Defence Committees) were tasked with combatting the armed rebellion in Kashmir. They had nearly 4,000 members and more than 27,000 volunteers.

Demands to disband the civil militia grew in the early 2000s when the rebellion began to dwindle and rebel groups – fighting either for complete independence or merger with Pakistan – lost their influence.

However, since 2019, as the region’s minorities – mainly the Hindus and Sikhs – faced deadly attacks by the suspected rebels, demands to revive the VDGs started to gain momentum.

The revived VDGs have been formed along the lines of Salwa Judum, a notorious militia group created at the turn of the century in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, where the Maoists led a resistance movement of the Indigenous people resisting a corporate takeover of their lands and resources.

In 2011, India’s Supreme Court declared the deployment of tribal youths for the Salwa Judum or any other militia aimed at fighting the Maoists as unconstitutional and ordered an immediate disarming of the militia.

No Kashmiri individual or organisation so far has challenged the revival of the VDGs in an Indian court.

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