Tale of two savage massacres
KR’s peep into Kashmir’s bloodied history
The past 30 years of Kashmir’s history comprise of numerous chapters of mass massacres. Killing of 23 Kashmiri Pandits at Wandhama in Ganderbal in the night of January 26, 1998 and 19 persons in Kupwara on January 27, 1994 include among such dark chapters that would haunt the tragic memories for generations to come.
It was the holy night of Lailatul Qadre (The Night of Blessing) and local Muslim residents were busy in night-long prayers in the mosque. Around mid-night burst of gun shots and loud shouts and yells disturbed the mosque peace. Those were the days when night operations against militants were frequently conducted by the security forces, the residents would not dare to come out of their houses unless asked through public address system.
Initially, the devotees thought that the army must have barged into the village in search of militants. They could not muster courage to venture out. In the meantime, flames erupted from the local temple and a residential house. It caused panic among the devotees but the fear kept them back in the mosque.
It was only after a Muslim resident came calling towards the mosque and informed that Pandits have been massacred and their houses set on fire. By the time the residents came out of the mosque the attackers had run away.
Vinod alias Ashu—a 14-yearl Pandit boy—was the only survivor of the 24-member community in the village. Ashu had ducked himself behind some wall in the thick of darkness and could not be spotted by the killers.
Next day, Ashu and other residents told media persons that around 20 armed persons in army fatigue swooped on the village, brought the Pandit residents out of their house and made them stand in a line. The gunmen then fired upon them indiscriminately killing all of them. The slain included women as well.
Kashmiri Pandits—a miniscule minority—had migrated from the valley soon after armed struggle against Indian rule began in 1990. However, some families had stayed back. Wandhama victims included among those Pandits who had not migrated from their village.
Government then blamed a group of foreign militants of being involved in the Pandit massacre but no militant groups claimed responsibility. The massacre caused serious resentment all across Kashmir. Hundreds of residents from nearby villages converged in the village to mourn the killing, and performed their last rites.
A few days later some foreign militants were killed in an encounter with security forces in the area and government said that the slain militants were involved in massacre of Pandits in Wandhama.
According to official records, 219 Pandits have been killed in separatist violence on separate occasions since 1989. According to records, 110 FIRs have been registered in different police stations in this regard.
When 19 persons including three policemen were massacred in Kupwara
January 26 (Republic Day) and August 15 (Independence Day of India) are being observed as black days in Kashmir since the rise of militancy in 1990. All the normal activities remain paralyzed under the calls from separatist leadership on these days.
A usual shutdown was observed on January 26, 1994 across the valley. The northern Kupwara township was no exception. Like other parts of Kashmir, the town had shut under separatist leaders’ call.
Two days before (on January 24) a verbal dual had occurred between local police and army soldiers in the town. That had infuriated the army.
According to local residents, January 26 shutdown ignited the army’s anger which burst into indiscriminate firing in the town on January 27 when the shopkeepers and traders opened their business houses for routine activity. At least 19 persons, three of them policemen, were instantly killed. The slain persons included the shopkeepers, pedestrians and vendors.
Army said that the killings took place in cross-firing with militants.
However, this argument was rejected by the government and then divisional commissioner B R Singh ordered magisterial inquiry into the incident.
Next day (January 28), Times of India ran the lead story with the headline—army kills 18 in Kupwara.
According to human rights activist Mohammad Ahsan Ontoo, FIR no.19/1994 under section 302, 307 was lodged in Police Station Kupwara in which soldiers of army’s 31 Medium Regiment led by field officer S Bakhshi was held responsible for the massacre.