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Murders revive call to disband J&K’s local defence units

Two VDC members arrested for murder with arms meant to thwart militants; protests, bandh follow

Written by Arun Sharma | Jammu |
December 28, 2015 12:09:38 am
J&K murders, murder in jammu and kashmir, youth national conference, geelani Srinagar: CRPF jawans patrol a street during restrictions imposed by the authorities at a strike called by Hurriyat Conference in protest against the killing of a mother-son duo in Rajouri district by a member of Village Defence Committee, at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Saturday. PTI Photo

Two back-to-back incidents of murder in Jammu and Kashmir, seemingly isolated but both allegedly involving members of village defence committees, have led to an outcry for the disbanding of these VDCs that had been formed as a defence against militants.

On Thursday, a woman and her four-year-old son were shot dead in their home at Samote in Budhal tehsil of Rajouri district. The previous Sunday, a Youth National Conference leader was gunned down at Kesar Gala in Kalakote of the same district. Two VDC members have since been arrested, one for each murder, and their guns have been seized.

The killings have sparked afresh the debate whether such committees need to exist when militancy has declined across the state over the past several years. The VDCs have 26,000 members and it is not the first time that any of them has used his allotted weapon for killing civilians rather than defending his area against militants. There have been 196 criminal cases including of rape and murder involving VDC members registered with the state police.

Parts of Jammu and Kashmir shut down Saturday following a statewide bandh called by separatist Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. National Conference activists have staged protests while CPM MLA M Y Tarigami has demanded immediate disbanding of all VDCs in the state.

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Police said the murders are isolated crimes in which the accused happen to be members of VDCs. Senior Superintendent of Police, Rajouri, Rajeshwar Singh said police, however, plan to carry out a verification exercise of all VDC members in this border district. Police will check how many VDC members have died, how many have become too old to perform the role designated to them, and how many have got involved in criminal activities over the years.

The woman who was killed was Shamima Akhter, 36, along with her son Tawheed Ahmad. Police sources said they believe personal enmity with the alleged killer, VDC member Mushtaq Ahmed of Mohra Dhaveen mohalla, was the motive behind the murder. Shamima’s husband Mohammad Din has been in Saudi Arabia for the last two years. Villagers said that Mushtaq, a barber by profession, had an argument with Shamima Thursday morning. He allegedly went home, picked up the .303 rifle allotted to him by the state government for fighting militants, and gunned down Shamima and her son.

The VDC member accused in the other murder is Kewal Sharma, a rations dealer. Locals said he had an old grudge with the victim, Youth National Conference leader Ishtyaq Ahmed. Members of Ishtyaq’s family said Ishtyaq had launched a campaign against black marketing of rations, after which Sharma had threatened him. Police said Sharma had once been arrested for black-marketing rations and his dealership was suspended by the Consumer Administration and Public Distribution department; he got it restored after his release.

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National Conference provincial president Devinder Rana, also the MLA from Nagrota, alleged that political forces were behind Ishtyaq’s murder as he had been getting threats. He accused the state government of using VDCs as private militia and demanded a judicial probe.

SSP Singh said police are investigating contradictory claims on both murders.

Democratic Freedom Party chairman Shabir Ahmad Shah too expressed concern over the killing of the mother and son. He said VDC members are “actually criminals who have found shelter in these so-called committees and are now openly perpetrating crimes”. Pointing out that they had opposed VDCs since their inception, Shah described the National Conference protests as a “drama” as “during its regime, the NC had played a pivotal role in the creation of VDCs.”

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First published on: 28-12-2015 at 12:09:38 am
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