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By Oken Jeet Sandham
Many of our Village Guards in ENPO areas are not well equipped. They are equipped with vintage “303 Rifles” which were widely used in World War I & II. Most of these weapons are now in Army Museums of foreign countries.
Strangely, some of our Village Guards are discharging their duties with spears and daos as Road Opening Party (ROP) while VIP movements are there in remote areas? I happened to be in one of the remote villages, some 45 kilometers away from Shamator HQs, for one function and while coming up to Shamator HQs, I saw some Village Guards were attentively providing services as Road Opening Party with spears. I asked the VIPs travelling with me, “Why has the Government not supplied firearms to them and what will they do with these spears in this modern day world?” Even the worst organized gangs do have sophisticated weapons these days!
Village guards are paramilitaries. Their stated purpose was to act as a local militia in towns and villages, protecting against attacks and reprisals from the insurgents. The rationale behind setting up of the system was that it would be helpful to the State Armed Forces to have an additional force of people who knew the region and the language in order to assist in security forces operations against the insurgents.
Naga Village Guards may be one of the oldest Village Guard systems. In Britain, in earlier days, the Home Guards were known as “Village Defence Forces” (VDF).
In Great Britain, the Home Guard had a number of purposes. They made those in it feel as if they were doing something constructive in the war effort. The Home Guard was not simply for older men past conscription age. Those young enough to be conscripted but who did not pass the military’s medicals could join the Home Guard. Men between 17 and 65 years could join it. The government had expected 150,000 volunteers in total but within 24 hours of Anthony Eden’s radio broadcast, 250,000 had joined. By August 1940, over 1.5 million men had volunteered.
The Home Guard acted as sentries during the day and night and became extra ‘ears and eyes’ for the full-time military. They checked that people were carrying their Identity Cards. Those caught without one could be arrested and handed over to the police, according to a citation, C N Trueman "Home Guard."
Local Home Guard units would know who lived locally and any strangers to an area would be subject to a check, especially as there was a genuine fear of Fifth Columnists. The Home Guard was also responsible for taking down road signs and any local clues that might help the enemy should they invade.
The Village guards played a remarkable role in the restoration of peace and order in the trouble-torn Naga areas during the turmoil period between the 1960s and 1970s. It may be mentioned that the emergence of the Village Guards began with the attack of Pangsha Village in the then Tuensang Frontier Division of North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA) by Naga rebels on the night of February 11 & 12, 1957. In this attack, nine persons including women and children were killed. The administration came to learn of an impending attack on this Village and, therefore, arranged 3 SBBL to arm the villagers including 5 shots. The rebels were taken by surprise as the village was well defended. Though armed with only 3 SBBL guns and spears and daos, the villagers were able to defend the village and caused heavy causalities on the attackers. This incident proved to the turning point in Village Defense in Nagaland.
The successful defending of the Pangsha Village by a group of mere peasants against a well-armed and trained group of rebels made Major R Khathing IFAS, Political Officer of erstwhile, Tuensang Frontier Division, under NEFA administration initiate the proposal for raising of 300 loyal Nagas to be armed with 12 bore guns under the banner of “Tuensang Frontier Division Scouts” for protection of the bordering villages. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, agreed to the proposal.
The Government of India came to know the warrior skills of Nagas and seized the moment by approving the proposal to set up Village Guards in the Region. Today, the strength of the Village Guards is nearly 10000. The Village Guards are already positioned in border villages in the districts of Tuensang, Mon, Kiphire, Longlen and Meluri Sub-Division of Phek District. There are 318 Village Guard Posts on the completion of 50 years in 2007.
Looking at this, they are quite strong forces in the Village Guard establishments. And in fact, they are nearly half of Nagaland’s total police strength confining to the border villages of four Districts and one Sub-Division. Unfortunately, their services are hardly utilized for the purpose and only seen providing services as Road Opening Party (ROP) during VIP visits in the region. Other areas to be seriously pondered over is their salary. They are normally paid as wages though there were reports that their honorarium had been increased.
We must know that the situation, today, is different and these Village Guards cannot be expected to perform with the same weapons they used in the 50s and 60s with the present rebels or other elements that are well equipped with the modern sophisticated weapons. And unless there is Village Guard modernization, it will be useless and futile exercise.
The State Government should seriously think of upgrading and modernizing the Village Guard forces and this way, many unwanted issues may be contained. There is nothing wrong to have spears and daos but not without sophisticated guns.