The 27th night of the Holy month of Ramadhan, Muslims believe, is better than 1000 months. On this night people change, their lives change and their destiny changes. But in 1998, the blessed night witnessed cold blooded massacre of scores of villagers in a small hamlet in Ganderbal. The inhuman act changed Kashmir for good.
This blessed night was observed on January 25 in 1998. In the entire Valley people were offering prayers in mosques. The Wandhama mosque was also abuzz with religious fervour. Around 11.45 p.m. wailing women came rushing towards the mosque. And in a jiffy, the blessed night turned into a nightmare for the villagers. Twenty-three villagers, all Kashmiri Pandits, were massacred in cold blood by masked gunmen.
The victims had resisted migration of Pandits in early 90s and decided to stay back in the strife torn Valley. The cold blooded massacre evoked severe reaction across Kashmir. People demanded an impartial probe and severe punishment to the culprits responsible for the massacre. The age-old bonds of brotherhood and peaceful co-existence were further damaged. The abode of the saints witnessed yet another migration Manoj Kumar Dhar, a 16- year- old was the lone eyewitness of the gruesome incident. He said: “A group of masked gunmen barged into my house at about 11:30 pm and forced the inmates to come out.” I jumped out of the wall of my house. As soon as my father, brothers and sisters came out, the gunmen shot them one by one. They cried and begged for life but the masked men showed no mercy. A gunman spotted me and asked me to come out but I hid myself beneath a heap of saw dust stored in the house. They fired indiscriminately in the rooms and at the walls from all sides. Then they left with the though that I too was dead. I could not identify them but they were speaking in Urdu”, he said.
Twelve years have passed but nobody has been brought to justice. The police have failed to identify the killers. The file has been closed and consigned to records. A few days after the incident, the police claimed recovery of a letter from the site of the massacre in which a hitherto unknown organization Intikaam-ul-Muslimoon had claimed responsibility of the massacre. The letter, according to the police, was tagged to one of the bullet riddled bodies. The police further said that the people of both the communities in Wandhama blamed the unwise shifting of an army camp from the area a few months before the massacre.
Four days after the Gaw Kadal massacre, twenty-five persons fell to bullets on January 25, 1990 at Handwara. According to eyewitnesses people in large numbers marched towards the main town.
“It was all peaceful. People hoisted green flags amid pro-freedom slogans. Slogans against Jagmohan were also raised. Nazir Ahmed Mir, a survivor said: “Suddenly BSF troopers in a 407- TATA vehicle bearing registration number HVN-7717 appeared and resorted to indiscriminate firing on protesters near the police station without provocation. Some people who escaped and entered into the house of a local politician to save their lives were shot dead by his guards.” According to him 25 persons were killed and dozens sustained injuries.
Recalling the incident Tariq Ahmed, whose uncle Ghulam Hassan, was among the dead said: “The government has no answer to our queries as to what led to this massacre. My uncle was not a militant but a protester. The troopers should not be spared and dealt with sternly.”
The status of the case registered by the police 20 years back is unknown.
A worn out FIR copy of the case lies in police station Handwara which only carries the state government and BSF’s version and has no mention about killings of the innocent.
The FIR stated that the protestors who were in thousands assembled from villages were raising provocative slogans and stoned and torched the BSF Tata 407 carrying eatables and also set Dak Banglow Handwara on fire.
On January 27, 1994, Kupwara witnessed another massacre. Twenty-seven persons got killed and 36 sustained injuries.
A report by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) received by the Commission separately from the J&K police and the Union Ministry has indicted troopers of 31 Med Regiment for killing civilians "without any provocation".
“Troops deployed on duty in Kupwara town under the command of Second Lieutenant S Bakshi indiscriminately fired in Bus Stand, Kupwara, without any provocation and justification, with criminal intention," said the CID report. However, the report said only 18 bodies were recovered.
“Several correspondence were made with the concerned unit to provide nominal roll of officers/jawans deputed for ROP duty on January 27, 1994, but despite repeated requests no response was made by the concerned unit… finally the investigation of the case was closed as untraced on April 10, 1997, on the basis of non-cooperation of army authorities,” the report said.
The case was agitated in the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) by a rights group. The rights panel had sought detailed report about the incident from the J&K police and Union Home Ministry on a petition seeking re-investigation into the case.
The case was reopened in 2004 but the investigating agency again rued the non-cooperation from the Army.
Later the International Forum for Justice through its Chairman Muhammad Ahsaan Untoo and Human Rights Forum J&K approached the SHRC seeking reinvestigation of the case.
On SHRC directions the Home Ministry had send reminder to the Union Defence Ministry to submit complete report on the incident. The Home Ministry had sought extension from the J&K right panel for furnishing of the required details.