March 2003 News

Midnight Massacre Pushes Valley To Brink

24 March 2003
The Indian Express

NADIMARG: To the milestones in the Valley's blood-drenched road, add one more: Nadimarg. Exactly three years and four days after the Chittisinghpora massacre, terror sneaked in at midnight again in this remote village in south Kashmir, dragged out the sleeping minority Hindus, 11 men, 11 women and two infants and sprayed them with bullets. The massacre, coming a day after the killing of moderate Hizbul leader Majid Dar, has not only shattered the three-month-old calm since the Mufti government took charge, it also threatens to push the Valley once again to its familiar brink. So gruesome was this killing that even in a place where trauma and tragedy have become cliches, everyone, from the media to the administration, was searching for adjectives. Consider this: &*149; Suraj had gone to sleep after celebrating his third birthday. His mother, among those who was asked to come out and fall in line, tried to hide him behind her. The first bullet got the mother, the second his father, then another crushed Suraj's right toe, shearing off three fingers. One and a half hours later, he died crying. &*149; Monu was just 2-year-old. The bullets had made sieve of his chest. His three-month old brother is the only survivor in the family. His parents too were killed next to him. &*149; Pritima, a 23- year-old woman who could not walk because of a disability, was dragged out and shot dead. &*149; Mohan Lal Bhat, 19, spent the day today looking at his father, mother, sister and uncle, all covered in white, their names scrawled in blue ink on the cotton. &*149; The first two bullets hit Chunni Lal in his thigh and arm. He fell down and found himself in a pile of bodies. As the guns fell silent, the gunmen came to check for any living. In a pool of blood, he held his breath, feigned dead and thus survived to tell the story. &*149; Phoola Devi (60) slipped away from the line and hid herself in the bushes just metres from the massacre site. Gripped with fear, she had to watch her husband Bansilal and 22-year-old daughter Rajni die crying for help. The irony is that this Kashmiri Hindu hamlet had a police picket too and the massacre took place right in its compound. Out of the nine policemen supposed to guard the Hindus, three were absent while the other six were sleeping. In fact, the unidentified killers had first barged into their picket, collected their guns and kept them locked inside till half of the residents were done to death. 'I was about to go to sleep when there was a knock at the door. My mother opened the door and there were three men wearing army uniforms (olive green), helmets and bullet-proof vests. Two of them were bearded and they asked everybody to come out,' said Mohan Lal Bhat, whose entire family was wiped out in the massacre. 'One of them spoke in Kashmiri which roused suspicion and when my father tried to resist, they dragged him out. Then they dragged out my mother, sister and uncle. I heard the commotion on the door and hid behind a tin sheet upstairs,' he said. Within 15 minutes, Bhat said, he heard the gun shots and wails. 'I spent the entire night there in shock and disbelief'. Eyewitnesses revealed that a group of 12 men armed with AK rifles and attired in olive green uniforms, bullet-proof vests and helmets, swooped on this remote village, 80 km south of Srinagar, at around 9.45 last night. 'They told us that they were armymen and had to search the houses. They asked everybody to come out,' said Phoola Devi. 'I came out with my husband and daughter. But when they asked us to line up in front of the police picket, I slipped away towards the bushes. Within seconds, they started firing indiscriminately,' she said. 'And when they (the gunmen) left the village, I looked for my family. My husband and daughter were lying dead but my son Chandji had also escaped. He had hidden inside the house.' In Chittisinghpra, a group of unidentified gunmen had swooped on a Sikh village, lined up 36 men and shot them dead on March, 20, 2000. There was no change in the modus operandi - the only difference is that this time around, the killers did not even spare the women and children. The village was full of people as the entire Muslim neighbourhood had come to join the mourning. There was also a beeline of politicians from government to the separatist parties. The first to arrive was the Pradesh Congress chief Ghulam Nabi Azad who put the blame squarely on Pakistan and promised strengthening of security to the Kashmiri Pandits still living in the Valley. 'The security provided to the 9,000-odd Kashmiri Hindus who had not migrated in 1990 should be the priority of the government,' he said. Senior Hurriyat Conference leader and JKLF chief Yasin Malik had also come along with another separatist leader Nayeem Khan. 'It is a shameful act against humanity. It is brutality and nobody can accept such a heineous crime,' he said. ' 'We want an impartial probe into this heineous massacre and the Hurriyat Conference will fully co-operate,' he said. He said that the problem of Kashmiri Pandits has nothing to do with Kashmir dispute. 'They are an essential part of Kashmir. This tragedy is a human issue and has nothing to do with any politics'. Another senior separatist leader Shabir Shah arrived in the afternoon as the police and local administration were waiting for Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He immediately took over and soon the villagers - both Hindu and Muslim - started shouting slogans of unity and against the unidentified killers. There was a lot of commotion in the crowd when Mufti arrived along with his daughter Mehbooba and senior ministers of his administration. Mufti called the massacre a 'major setback to the peace process.' As the bodies were being taken for the funeral, an old man was bitterly crying on the verandah of his house. 'I have not just lost my family. I feel my roots have ditched me. I will never belong to Kashmir again,' he said.


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