Women take up arms against militants
7 April 2007
Kulali: In a daring display of gender equality, the women of Kulali have joined the men in guarding their family against militants in the hills of Pir Panjal. As the summer sets in, the Gujjars are moving to the meadows in the highlands where the cattle can feed. The women, the elderly and children migrate to the hills to escape the heat, while the men stay in the low-lying areas looking after their lands. With the onset of militancy in the area, many Gujjar clans stopped moving to the upper ranges as they were becoming easy targets for militants. Now women trained in warfare are moving to the hills with their weapons. It is not that risks have reduced. In fact, militant activity has lately been noticed in the belt. For instance, a vital communication of a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Saifullah was intercepted a few days back in the neighbouring Chandimarh belt. Movement of militants has been noticed in the same area. The intercepts indicated that a group crossed the Kalidhar range of Rajouri district last week. 'Attack is the best form of defense,' says Rashida Bi, who was injured in a militant attack in 2004. 'If we become meek and servile, militants will again try to attack us. Now we feel we are prepared to deal with any act of the militants.' In July 2004, thirteen clan members were killed in a pre-dawn attack at Teli Katha area. Most of the victims were women and children. 'We have learnt over the years that silence against injustice is a bigger crime,' says Taslima, a 25-year-old. 'We once lost our freedom to militants. We will never let that happen again.' Linked to the problem of insecurity among the villagers is the fact that a number of men who were enlisted as Special Police Officers have been disengaged lately. Only Special Police Officers were given automatic weapons. The rest of the Village Defence Committee personnel are provided with the heavy .303 rifles. As a precautionary measure, many Special Police Officers had trained women in their family in the use of automatic weapons. But now with fewer automatic weapons with the Gujjars, the women have to rely on the heavy and archaic .303 rifles that are no match for the automatic weapons used by militants. Not only are they heavier, but the number of bullets that can be fired is far less compared to automatic weapons.