May 2, 2023
ISLAMABAD – REPORTS that the Indian government is propping up Hindu militias in held Kashmir point to the disturbing fact that the right-wing administration in New Delhi wants to exacerbate communal tensions in the disputed region.
Thousands of Hindus in Kashmir have joined the so-called Village Defence Guards in an apparent attempt to protect their settlements from militant attacks. This is not the first time armed militias comprising civilians have been deployed in occupied Kashmir.
The groups were first raised in the 1990s, but even in their last incarnation there were hundreds of complaints accusing militia members of heinous crimes including murder and rape. There is little to suggest things will be different this time, and many Muslim residents of IHK have expressed their unease.
The latest justification for the formation of militias appears to be the January attacks in the Rajouri area. A number of Hindu civilians had died in those incidents, while members of the Kashmiri Pandit community have also been killed over the past few decades.
It should be stated that targeting non-combatants is unacceptable and besmirches the Kashmiri freedom struggle; in fact, leading Kashmiri freedom groups, including the APHC, have condemned violence on religious grounds. Yet the BJP is cunningly exploiting these tragedies to crush the Kashmiri struggle, and promoting religious conflict in the troubled region. Already held Kashmir is a highly militarised zone.
Giving one religious community weapons and state authorisation to use them will only heighten tensions in a sensitive region. Also, creating militias on confessional grounds can be replicated outside IHK.
The Sangh Parivar is, of course, no stranger to violence, and several organisations within its stable, particularly the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena, are known for their central role in anti-Muslim violence.
A successful ‘experiment’ in IHK involving armed Hindu militias can be used as a prototype for Hindutva groups in India to forward their divisive, blood-soaked agenda. The BJP is playing with fire by creating a pretext for religious conflict in IHK as well as India.
Instead of encouraging armed gangs and using the brute force of its military machine to suppress the Kashmiri struggle, India needs to give diplomacy a chance.
New Delhi is mistaken if it thinks relentless brutality, or changing the status of the disputed region through constitutional chicanery as it did in August 2019, can extinguish the Kashmiri desire for freedom.
The past few decades have roundly proved this to not be the case. Kashmiris want freedom, dignity and the right to decide their future through democratic means.
India should strive to arrive at a workable solution together with the Kashmiris and Pakistan that would protect the rights of all of Kashmir’s communities, while the dubious plan of raising communal militias should be discarded immediately.