As night falls in the small Himalayan village of Tangri, a dozen armed men emerge from their homes with rifles slung over their shoulders. They checked for signs of danger in moonlit surroundings.
During the day, men are drivers, traders and farmers. At night, members of a local militant group revived by the Indian government in the Jammu and Kashmir region in response to deadly terrorist attacks on Hindu families.
“We cannot sit back and watch our people get killed,” said Vijay Kumar, a volunteer who works as an electrician.
The Indian government’s forced arming of thousands of civilians shows the limits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach to regional containment.
For decades, a separatist militancy has plagued Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory by India and Pakistan. Thousands of Kashmiri civilians and Indian security forces have been killed in this violence. In 2019, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government abruptly revoked the Muslim-majority region’s semi-autonomous status, placing the valley under direct control of New Delhi, which has deployed more troops, cracked down on dissent and put people under house arrest. Leaders loyal to India.
Modi’s lieutenants point to the influx of tourists flooding the area as a sign that normalcy has returned. But democracy has been paralyzed in the region. Repeated attacks on civilians raise questions about the military’s approach to what analysts say is essentially a political problem. Hindus in the region have come under threat again when violence erupted in the 1990s, even in southern Jammu, having escaped earlier massacres.
“In the most militarized part of the world, it seems strange that you arm civilians to protect civilians, which is probably the job of the military,” said Siddiqui Wahid, a political historian.
In Tangri, a series of bloody attacks against Hindus in January was the impetus for the civilian re-arming. Saroj Bala, 58, was washing dishes at night when he heard gunshots, followed by the screams of his elder son Deepak Sharma. She and her younger son Prince Sharma ran outside to find two masked gunmen. They shot Prince dead at point-blank range – he died in hospital – and then continued to shoot Deepak’s lifeless body.
The assailants locked 32-year-old Neeta Devi and her children in the kitchen and shot dead her husband Chishu Pal and father-in-law Pritam Lal. Retired army officer Satish Kumar was also killed by gunmen when he tried to guard the gate.
The next morning, while mourning at Bala’s house, a bomb explodes, killing two young relatives.
Indian authorities blamed Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Now, in Rajouri district, which includes Tangiri, 5,200 volunteers are armed.
They admitted they were not adequately armed or trained because the men had been on a recent night patrol.
“Even if we don’t have advanced weapons, we will do our best to protect our community,” said Amaranth, a farmer volunteer.
By: Shokat Nanda
BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.nytsyn.com/subscribed/stories/6613321, Import Date: 2023-03-15 18:20:07
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