News ID: 114453
Publish Date : 29 April 2023 - 22:40

Report: India Arms Hindu Militias in Kashmir to Combat Muslims

NEW DELHI (Dispatches) – The Indian government is arming village militias to combat pro-independence fighters in the disputed Himalayan Muslim-majority region, according to a report.
Brandishing a bolt-action rifle, civil servant Sanjeet Kumar is one of 5,000 Kashmir villagers who have joined all-Hindu militia units armed and trained by Indian forces to fight off attacks by Muslim fighters, AFP reported.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since their partition in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir in its entirety and have fought at least three wars over the territory.
New Delhi accuses Islamabad of supporting pro-independence fighters, an allegation rejected by the Pakistani government. Islamabad, in turn, is critical of India’s heavy military deployment to Kashmir and its crackdown on the region’s Muslim population.
India has more than half a million soldiers permanently deployed in the parts of Muslim-majority Kashmir it controls.
Rights groups say arbitrary detentions and killings by Indian troops are leading to a range of human rights violations, a charge New Delhi rejects.
The Hindu nationalist government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attempting to crush a decades-long pro-independence movement.
The Modi government revoked the self-autonomy of Kashmir in 2019, in a move described by neighboring Pakistan as illegal.
Indian authorities announced the new militias last year.
Kumar said a deadly assault by pro-independence fighters in his frontier village in January prompted him to sign up.
“We were totally terrorized by the attack,” the 32-year-old municipal worker in the electricity department told AFP.
Wearing a saffron-colored 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 told AFP.
The AFP report said the new militia units, known as Village Defense Guards, were launched last year in the wake of a string of murders targeting police officers and Hindu residents of Kashmir.
Muslim villagers are concerned 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 pro-independence fighters and fired upon.
“The purpose is to create a line of defense, not a line of attack,” Kanchan Gupta of India’s information ministry told AFP.
India first created a militia force in Kashmir in the mid-1990s as a first line of defense 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 organized into village defense 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 percent of defendants were convicted.