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A successful campaign against jehadi militancy integrates a divided society

Luv Puri

VDCs revive the centuries-old syncretic culture



GUARDING THE HILLOCKS: A VDC member on guard in the rural belt of militancy infested Bhaderwah area along the eastern edge of the Pir Panjal mountains in Jammu and Kashmir. — Photo: Luv Puri

MUANDA (BHADERWAH): On the eastern edges of the Pir Panjal mountains, which have acquired the sobriquet of "laboratory of fundamentalist forces," the formation of Village Defence Committees comprising members of all religions to combat the jehadi militancy has come a long way. They have integrated society and revived the centuries old syncretic culture.

The history of this rural militancy infested belt of Bhaderwah area of Doda district during the last one decade has not been one of calm and tolerance. Once known as the land of synthesis between Islam and Hinduism, this highly literate belt of the State turned into a cauldron of fundamentalist politics and militancy added fuel to the fire.

The media discourse from this place in the last one decade has mostly focused on communal tension.

However, in a break from the recent past, the rural belt is reviving the old values of tolerance and religious brotherhood. This is due to the active participation of people from both the communities in VDCs.

The story is the same village after village: In Neota, Muanda and the neighbouring hillocks there is a sign of revivalism of local traditions which bond the locals cutting across religion.

Two months ago it was the Muslim VDC members of Muanda village who provided security to the famous 14-day Kailash pilgrimage. Pilgrims walk 40 km towards the Kailash peak.

The trek symbolises the victory of the local king over the forces of Mughal emperor Akbar. But the pilgrimage went on smoothly thanks to the efforts of the local VDC men.

Javed Mohammad, a VDC member, says: "We were losing our culture and values. We have to fight out militancy and divisive politics collectively to end this menace.

In the belt where the hamlets are separated by hours, VDCs offer the only practical way to ward off the militants."

Problems are no less for the VDC guards here as they are paid a measly Rs. 562 a month. Another member, Tasleem Arif, says: "We have to be alert all through the day to protect the rest of the village and consequently we cannot pay much attention to agriculture. We are on the brink of poverty though we have fertile fields."

The arms given to them are .303 rifles which lack the firepower and quick response of the automatic weapons such as AK-47 handled by the militants.

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