Remembering those Lost to Civilian Massacres in Kashmir
Author: Dr. Ghulam N. Mir
March 1, 1990 – A massacre of peaceful protestors – Over 1,500 peaceful demonstrators gathered to protest against the abuses of Governor Jagmohan. Jagmohan imposed an unofficial martial law in the valley. His security forces had beat suspects and fired upon civilians, in addition to unlawful search and seizures, and widespread detention of suspected militants. The protestors marched to the United Nations (U.N.) office in Srinagar, demanding the U.N call for a plebiscite on self-determination for Kashmir and independence from India.
While the crowd voiced chants for freedom, five military vehicles led by three junior commissioned officers of the Indian army blocked the protestors. The officers threatened police to “give way, or we’ll shoot you,” eye-witnesses recalled.
Using truck-mounted machine guns, the Indian army fired into the crowd killing 26 people and wounding another 50. Local officials ignored the humanitarian crisis, and the wounded were brought to hospitals by shopkeepers and residents.
Sadly, this was not the end of the tragedy. The Indian military subsequently fired on a bus near Tengpora Bypass, killing another 21 people. This was an unprovoked murder of unarmed civilians. Five women were among the dead. The incident was condemned by Amnesty International.
March 30, 1996 – A legacy of broken promises – Indian forces massacred members of a splinter group of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Indian forces destroyed the group’s headquarters by sieging it with motor shells and grenades, while spraying it with machine-gun fire, preventing anyone from retreating to safety. The building ultimately collapsed into flames, killing 22, including Shabir Siddiqui, the leader of the group.
No casualties were reported among Indian forces.
According to other members of the JKLF, Indian authorities had gone back on their word to allow the group safe passage and kept them trapped in their headquarters.
The siege had occurred after members of the JKLF occupied the Hazratbal shrine – considered the holiest shrine in Kashmir. The shrine contains a holy relic of a strand of hair, believed to come from the Prophet Mohammad.
The JKLF had held the shrine for four days, before the destruction of their headquarters, which resulted in a clash with police that left 11 people dead. Initially, they had been allowed to leave the mosque peacefully.
Before the destruction of the JKLF compound, police had discovered the group planned to re-occupy the shrine when they discovered weapons at the site. This discovery likely prompted the assault on the JKLF headquarters.
Indian officials denied that they had struck any deal with the group, other than to leave the Hazratbal mosque safely.
Reaction to the killing prompted immediate outrage. Local protestors demonstrated against India’s hostile actions. The protestors threw rocks at the police, and the police retaliated by tear-gassing the crowd and beating them with bamboo sticks.
In the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, over 200 protestors demonstrated in front of the Indian embassy to denounce the killings. 12 people were arrested after they threw rocks at the compound.
March 20, 2000 – The sole survivor of the Chittisinghpura massacre speaks out – On the eve of U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, the Indian Army massacred 35 Sikhs in the Kashmiri village of Chittisinghpura. Nanah Singh was the only survivor of the attack that night. Singh was an employee of the government, working for the Animal Husbandry Department.
He and his family members were on their way home from the temple when they were stopped by masked men wearing military fatigues. “Where are the militants? We have information that militants are visiting this village,” the soldier demanded.
The assembled Sikhs stated that they were unaware of any militants in the village. But rather than allowing them to return home, the soldiers detained them. The soldiers lined 19 Sikhs outside Singh Sabha Sumandri Hall Gurdwara. Nearby, another 17 Sikhs were lined up in a row outside Shakeen Mohalla Gurdwara.
The soldiers were ordered to check the Sikhs’ identity cards and then let them go.
However, it was not to be. As the soldier asked to see the Sikhs’ identity cards, their Commanding Officer opened fire. Singh was uninjured during the initial assault. He fell and pretended to be dead along with the others of his group.
“Check to see if there are any still breathing.” The CO instructed.
The soldiers fired into the bodies. This time a bullet fractured Singh’s hip. Somehow, he managed not to scream. His hand clutching at the wound as he bled profusely.
Sure that no one was left alive, the soldiers proceeded to laugh and celebrate.
While Singh survived, he lost his son, brother, three cousins, and an uncle. Another of his cousins was wounded and was able to walk home and get help from the villagers. Sadly, he later succumbed to his injuries. Singh faced a long road to recovery, spending over 25 days in a hospital. As the only survivor of the massacre, he has continued to share his story hoping that justice will one day be served. 21 years later, he is still waiting.
It is the hope of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum that these atrocities are never forgotten, and the perpetrators be brought to justice.