Kashmir’s miniscule Hindu community, victim of severe religious persecution and ethnic cleansing over the past two decades, once again lost hope of an improvement in the political climate that might facilitate a return home with the quiet closure of one of the worst massacres of the past decade. Last month, the migrant community was shocked to learn that State Police had quietly closed the 1998 Wandhama massacre file claiming “untraceability of the killers,” though Indian law does not shut unsolved murder cases.
Actually, there was never any serious investigation of the case. The Central Government has declared inability to help in any respect, no doubt on account of Article 370. The massacre saw the cold-blooded killing of 23 Hindus in Wandhama village in Ganderbal, constituency of Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah, on the night of January 25, 1998, the eve of Republic Day. One of the worst instances of ethnic cleansing, the victims included four children, nine women and ten men; 14-year-old Vinod Dhar was the sole survivor.
He revealed that masked gunmen entered the homes of the four Hindu families around 11:30 pm. They spoke Urdu, not Kashmiri, and asked for tea, which was served by his mother. Suddenly, firing broke out in all homes; the boy hid upstairs; the men set the house on fire before leaving. Vinod came down and saw the bodies of his family; the three other Hindu homes and a temple were also burning. Most Muslim neighbours were at the mosque for the holy night of Shab-e-Qader, and learnt of the killings when their women alerted them.
The State Police claimed an unknown Intikaam-ul-Muslimoon left a letter on one of the bodies, claiming responsibility for the killing and warning of forthcoming attacks to avenge killings in Handwara. Villagers from both communities blamed the massacre on the “unwise” decision to shift an army camp from the area seven months ago. Understandably, the slaughter triggered a fresh flight of Hindu families from the state.
Worse, the tragedy went virtually uninvestigated despite several pleas by Kashmiris. Instead of asking a superior investigating agency like the CID or CBI to help identify the killers, an incompetent or indifferent police callously closed the case on the grounds that no one had been identified as the killer of the Pandits. This is an ominous form of exoneration.
Though Wandhama shook the nation, agitating Kashmiri Hindus had to break down police barricades in New Delhi to get a hearing with the politically correct National Human Rights Commission. Panun Kashmir convener Dr Agnishekhar fell unconscious when hit by water cannon, and had to be hospitalized. This compelled NHRC chairman Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah to order an on-the-spot investigation and issue notices to the Union Home Secretary, State chief secretary and Director General of Police, Jammu & Kashmir, regarding the safety of citizens in the valley. It sought an action-taken report from the state and ordered special care for the upkeep of sole survivor Vinod Kumar.
But the problem of Kashmiri Hindus, then as now, can be summed up as “studied neglect.’ On 28 January 1998, even as people mourned the tragedy, then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral celebrated the inauguration of the National Winter Games at Gulmarg with Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and Union Environment Minister Saifuddin Soz. This struck such a jarring note that the CPM state general secretary felt forced to say that “as a mark of respect to the carnage of the innocent Pandits, the Government should have at least cancelled the colourful cultural programme, keeping in view the gloom that has engulfed the Valley people.”
The Wandhama massacre marked the second stage of Hindu killings in the valley; the first targetted individuals or males in groups of two or three. Wandhama saw the concentrated killing of entire families in chosen villages. By this time, the militancy was controlled by jihadis from Pakistan, products of Dawat-ul Irshad at Muridke, or madarsas affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami or Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (which spawned Taliban). They were doctrinaire in their commitment to global Islamic resurgence, and determined to wrest Kashmir.
Scanning press reports of the massacre, one found grieving Muslim neighbours reporting having advised the Hindu families to seek safety in Jammu, which the Hindus resisted, saying they loved the village. While respecting the sorrow of local Muslims, India must demand more from her Muslim citizens in the face of her unending suffering at the hands of jihadi outfits trained and sponsored by Pakistan and Bangladesh. For a start, Kashmiri Muslims must appreciate that the land of Rishi Kashyapa has a rich and hoary Vedic tradition which they must venerate and preserve if they truly believe in a composite Kashmiri culture, called Kashmiriyat. The State language should be Kashmiri, not Urdu.
Ganderbal district presented a grim sight: 23 funeral pyres were erected; a lonely child lit each in turn. There was no one left, he said, no look after him, his fields, orchards, cattle. What an inheritance. The Wandhama massacre exposed Central and State Government claims that the valley was returning to normal. In fact, the return of an elected government witnessed three massacres of Hindus: Sangrampura (March 1997), Gul Gulabgarh (June 1997), and Wandhama (January 1998). Kashmiris who fled naturally rebuffed Dr. Abdullah’s calls to return, as he failed to admit or mitigate their security concerns. The Centre was a mute spectator.
Currently, in election year, political parties are frantically calling Kashmiri Hindus back to the valley, announcing sops and financial incentives to regain international credibility. The objective is to restore the shattered myth of composite culture, a euphemism for Hindu acquiescence in the politico-cultural domination of Islam. Subordination induced by centuries of oppression led Kashmiri Hindus to adopt a peculiar self-apartheid and insist on having a distinct identity from other Indian Hindus; the price was a chilling Hindu indifference to their predicament.
But the wheel turned full circle when the flight of Hindus weakened the position of Kashmiri Muslims vis-à-vis Pakistan on the issue of independence. Recognition has belatedly dawned that Hindus are a bulwark against outright absorption into the land of the pure. As the Prophet inducted Arabs into his new faith tribe by tribe, Islam failed to eradicate tribal-ethnic identities, though it cannot admit them. Kashmiri Muslims cannot submit to Punjabi domination in Pakistan.
The Pioneer, 24 June 2008