Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jan 25, 1998: When 23 Kashmiris were massacred in cold blood

Srinagar, Jan 24: With the police having failed to trace out the killers, the Wandhama massacre has been consigned to records. Yet another mysterious page has been added to Jammu Kashmir’s beleaguered history. Justice remains a casualty. The 27th night of the Holy month of Ramadhan, Muslims believe, is better than 1000 months. On this night people believe their destiny changes. But in 1998, the blessed night witnessed cold blooded massacre of scores of villagers in a hamlet in Ganderbal. The inhuman act changed Kashmir for good. This blessed night fell on January 25 in 1998. In the entire Valley people were offering prayers in mosques. The Wandhama mosque was also abuzz with religious fervour. Around 11.45 pm wailing women came rushing towards the mosque. And in a jiffy, the blessed night turned into a nightmare for the villagers. Twenty-three villagers, all Kashmiri Pandits, had been massacred in cold blood by masked gunmen. The victims had resisted migration of Pandits in early 90s and decided to stay back in the strife torn Valley. The cold blooded massacre evoked severe reaction across Kashmir. People demanded an impartial probe and severe punishment to the culprits responsible for the massacre. The age-old bonds of brotherhood and peaceful co-existence were further damaged. The abode of the saints witnessed yet another migration. Manoj Kumar Dhar, a 16- year- old was the lone eyewitness of the gruesome incident. “A group of masked gunmen barged into my house at about 11:30 pm and forced the inmates to come out. I jumped out of the wall of my house. As soon as my father, brothers and sisters came out, the gunmen shot them one by one. They cried and begged for life but they (masked men) showed no mercy. A gunman spotted me and asked me to come out, but I hid myself beneath a heap of saw dust stored in the house. They fired indiscriminately in the rooms and at the walls from all sides. Then they left thinking I too was dead. I could not identify them but they were speaking Urdu,” Dhar said. Twelve years have passed but nobody has been brought to justice. The police have failed to identify the killers. The file has been closed and consigned to records. A few days after the incident, the police claimed recovery of a letter from the site of the massacre in which a hitherto unknown organization Intikaam-ul-Muslimoon had claimed responsibility of the massacre. The letter, according to the police, was tagged to one of the bullet riddled bodies. The police further said that the people of both the communities in Wandhama blamed the unwise shifting of an army camp from the area a few months before the massacre.

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