By day, Murali Lal Sharma, 55, grows maize and pulses on a small farm in Dhangri, Jammu, the southern region of Indian Kashmir. At nightfall, this farmer, married and father of three children, loads an old weapon and stands on the lookout, ready to shoot any separatist militant. “It is not suitable for fighting opponents who carry sophisticated weaponshe grumbles, showing the Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle that the authorities recently gave him to defend Dhangri. But at least it gives me peace of mind. I sleep well at night now. »
Nestled at the foot of the mountainous Pir Panjal, and located along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, Dhangri and its 3,500 residents are still traumatized by the night of 1er January. Murali Lal Sharma was about to go to bed when two separatist militants, armed with weapons and explosives, landed in the town to commit carnage. Just 300 meters from her house, a widow lost two young sons and two children were blown away by a massive explosion. A total of seven villagers, all Hindus, perished.
A few weeks after the attack, Murali Lal Sharma joined the Village Defense Guards, a self-defence militia sponsored by the authorities. In Jammu, there are dozens like that of Dhangri, made up of civilian volunteers who receive training in the handling of weapons and guns, as well as a monthly sum of around 4,000 rupees (45 euros) to defend their village.
Home Minister Amit Shah decided to reactivate these civilian networks in 2022, following a series of killings in Jammu targeting civilians and Hindu pilgrims, political activists from the ruling Bharatiya party Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party), and members of the security forces. Jammu is the Hindu part of Kashmir, which is almost 70% Muslim. So far spared from violence by separatist groups in Kashmir over the past three decades, which claimed almost 60,000 lives, Jammu has turned into a new battleground for Muslim insurgents following the revocation of the semi-autonomy of Kashmir, decided abruptly in August 2019 by the Indian Prime Minister. The region was placed under the direct control of New Delhi.
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