Wandhama, 1998: Massacre that left 23 dead and shook Muslim-Pandit fraternity

Srinagar, Jan 25:
On the night of 25th January 1998, unknown gunmen killed 23 Kashmiri pundits, including women and children, at Wandhama village of Ganderbal. Nineteen years after the massacre, the victim families feel let down as they believe the case was not probed professionally by police.

Talking to Rising Kashmir, President of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS), Sanjay Tikoo said, “The way the case has been investigated we are not satisfied with it.”

The massacre coincided with Shab-e-Qadar, the holiest night of the month of Ramadan, when believers stay awake until dawn. While their Muslim neighbours were praying at the local mosque, Kashmiri Pandits of Wandhama were killed in cold blood.

Tikoo, who has sought details regarding the investigation, said, “I think no massacre whether it is of Kashmiri pandits or any other is being probed by investigating officers the way they should be. They don’t do the ground work.”

Police investigators had said the massacre was carried out by Harkat-ul-Ansar. In February 1998, police had said six militants of the militant outfit were killed in Safapora area of Ganderbal.
“In 2008 the case was closed. But we approached the State Human Rights Commission and filed an application before them and they issued notice to DGP. The police then filed the status report wherein they said 21 militants were involved and 20 among them have been killed during various encounters,” Tikoo said.

“But we filed the counter application in 2010 regarding the police report and asked SHRC to ask police to provide us details of militants – where they have been killed and how can they authenticate that they were the same militants that have been involved in Wandhama massacre, but we haven’t received any reply so far.”
KPSS also sought to know as to who was the investigating officer in Wandhama massacre and provide police diary to SHRC. “But they have been unresponsive. So many years after the massacre, we are still clueless about the killers,” said Tikoo.

After 1991 when Kashmiri pandits left the valley, the pandits of Wandhama stayed back. But on the fateful night of January 25, four children, nine women and 10 men were killed. The only person who survived was a 14-year-old boy, Vinod Kumar Dhar who was the sole witness to the massacre.

Some newspaper reports quoted the boy saying the gunmen came to their house dressed in army fatigues, had tea with them, waited for a radio message indicating that all Pandit families in the village had been covered. “After a brief conversation they rounded up all the members of the Hindu households and then summarily gunned them down with Kalashnikov.”

Senior politician Khem Lata Wakhloo, who had visited the village immediately after the massacre, said, “It was awful and sad to see the bodies scattered all around. They were massacred in a gruesome way.”
“I am not aware about the investigation, but the trauma Kashmiri pandits have undergone after leaving their kith and kin behind is irreparable. No matter what the government does, the shock of leaving their own land will never go,” she told Rising Kashmir.

Speaking to Rising Kashmir, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ganderbal, Imtiyaz Ismail said, “I was 12 year old when this massacre had taken place, I need to check it out. And the investigating officer of this case has gone to yesterday’s encounter site at Ganderbal.”