August 2000 News

Pahalgam''s bloody massacre divides locals, langarwalas

7 August 2000
Asian Age
Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar: The August 1 massacre at Pahalgam has affected adversely the locals and shopkeepers, porters and hoteliers are yet to recover from the shock. ''Pahalgam will never be the same,'' laments vendor Ghulam Hassan. The massacre has led to communal tension in the area with the locals in conflict with the organisers of the community kitchens from outside the state. The langarwalas are accused of spreading rumours about the locals and shopkeepers. The shopkeepers in turn allege that the langarwalas were responsible for ransacking shops and theft. Some locals told visiting reporters that the langarwalas had threatened to make the place ''hell for the locals'' about a week ago. The local administration is also weary of their behaviour. A senior official in the district administration told The Asian Age that a self-styled association of the langarwalas is breaking rules and norms by setting up community kitchens in an arbitrary manner. When asked to follow norms in the interest of the safe conduct of the pilgrimage, the langarwalas quarrelled with the officials and planted stories in newspapers outside the Valley alleging harassment, the official said. Locals are shocked as to how militants sneaked into the bowl-shaped valley surrounded by mountains whose ''every yard is guarded by Army and paramilitary forces.'' Some like Abdul Ahad say, ''It could be the result of a misfire by a security force personnel leading to panic firing by his colleagues.'' ''If militants succeed in reaching and striking at the centre of an extremely sanitised area like the base camp of the Amarnath pilgrims then this is the worst security lapse we have ever had,'' a police officer said. On Thursday, when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Pahalgam along with a all-party parliamentary delegation, including leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi, he faced an agitated crowd demanding an end to ''repression.'' A Sikh hotelier, Mr Satender Singh Sethi, told Mr Vajpayee that if he wanted to take the people of the Valley along, the danda (stick) of the security forces would have to give place to love and care for the locals. ''If you beat me up I may say I am with you but my heart won''t,'' he told the visiting delegation and added that while the delegation was at the Pahalgam Club, the security forces were beating up people in a village nearby. Earlier, Mr Sethi told journalists accompanying the delegation that there were many locals among the casualties and wondered ''if the Army could not tackle 5,000-odd militants, how could it do so with the entire population by resorting to force.'' Mr Singh has already left his hotel for his Srinagar home, reportedly following visits by intelligence sleuths after he narrated the events to the Prime Minister. While Mr Vajpayee and his entourage were reviewing the situation, a man with broken bones was being shifted from the village to the town hospital. There were allegations of women being molested too. Mr Vajpayee advised the people responsible for running langars for to check that miscreants did not sneak in after a middle-aged man told the Prime Minister in a surcharged voice that there were people who had come in the garb of pilgrims and attacked locals with knives after the firing incident on August 1. The locals and business community who had come to apprise the Prime Minister about the incidents following the massacre alleged that the security forces ran amok after the incident and fired indiscriminately, killing several locals. Locals allege that the throat of at least one person was slit. There have been reports of thefts from shops also. Mrs Sonia Gandhi was the only leader to break the security ring and meet the affected people who told her the tales of torture they suffered following the gruesome incident. This interaction with the locals was perhaps the reason for Mrs Gandhi to call for a judicial probe into the Pahalgam massacre soon after she returned to New Delhi. The rest of the politicians, including Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, Ms Mamata Banerjee and Mr George Fernandes remained in the Pahalgam Club. There are gruesome reports about how some pilgrims and security personnel allegedly reacted to the incident. Some people, as was reported in the local press also, were allegedly thrown into the fast flowing Lidder river. While no one was ready to confirm this, the shock and pain writ large on the faces of the people speaks volumes about what they might have gone through. The bloodshed at the banks of the Lidder has stained the traditionally cordial relationship between the locals and the visiting pilgrims. While it is the executive''s prerogative to decide on institute an inquiry to look into the causes leading to the Pahalgam massacre, The bullets that ripped through the bodies of victims have pierced the minds of survivors too. Women from nearby villages have been visiting Pahalgam in search of their children and husbands reported to be missing after the incident.


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