It has been Seventeen years since the Chittisinghpora massacre took place on the unfortunate night of 20 March 2000; 35 Sikhs were murdered in cold blood. The perpetrators are still believed to be unidentified gunmen as the investigation process has not yielded any results and has been inconclusive. There has been no judicial inquiry constituted on this case, the mother of all followed cases (Pathribal and Barrackpora) remains un-investigated. The long delayed and judicial silence has further estranged the already alienated Sikh community in Kashmir.
The Bloody night
Chittisinghpora is one of the largest Sikh village in Anantnag district in Kashmir. The village has approximately four hundred Sikh families. The whole village is divided into six mohallas (small units) and it has three Gurudwaras. 20 March, 2000 was like another day for villagers. However it was a holiday as it was Holi, the festival of colors. School children, office going crowd, people who just needed another reason to rejoice the mundane life; everyone was celebrating the holiday. As the evening approached and the sun was setting in the far horizons of Himalayas; Sikhs of various age groups were beginning to visit their local gurudwara to offer the Rehras Sahib (evening prayer of Sikhs). It should be noted that visiting gurudwara on a daily basis (evenings and mornings) is a practice that most Sikhs follow in the valley. Perhaps, it’s their way to draw strength from the higher power to face the obscurity of their life in the valley.
In villages or for that matter any conflicted region on this planet, places of worship not only inspires the communion in the community but also serve as a ground to share the lighter side of life. Likewise the men of Chittisinghpora after having visited the gurudwara in the evening left in groups chit chatting about their interests, lives and gossips, a scene that we are fairly familiar with (evening get together after a hard day’s work) when suddenly they were halted by a group of people in army uniform.
The first group consisted of 19 people and it was stopped at main gurudwara ‘sumadrihal’. Remaining 17 were lined up near ‘shokiapura mohala’. Both groups were ordered to arrange themselves in a straight line and then all of them were shot at a point blank range. All 36 men (belonging to various age groups) were killed. The time of killing coincided with US President Bill Clinton’s India visit.
Men from every age group were killed. Two boys who were killed were 18, while 10 of those men were not even 30, 13 were between the age group of 30-50 years and 4 in between 50-66 years. Nanak Singh now 58 years old is the lone survivor of the massacre. He lost his son Gurmeet Singh, one brother and two cousins. Even after 17 years of the massacre, he is unable to forget the inhumane incident that sent shock waves across the world. While narrating the whole incident, Nanak Singh revealed that he spent more than four months in a hospital to recover but he hasn’t stopped grieving the loss of many families who lost all of their male members. Among such families there were a few where all three generation (Grandfather-father-son) were wiped out from the face of the earth on the same night. It was an ordinary night in an ordinary village with the exception of the butchering of their 35 men.
De-linking Chittisinghpora and Pathribal
On March 25, just after five days of Sikh massacre five innocent civilians were killed in the Pathribal village. They were projected as the militants who caused the chattisinghpora massacre. However, over a huge hue and cry the encounter was declared a fake one. The Government blamed foreign militants to lead this carnage and five local civilian were framed under this. The latter cover up proved the two incidents should be de-linked.
There is no proof of the interconnectedness of Pathribal incident and Chittisinghpora massacre. Sikh community has condemned Pathribal incident along with the rest of the valley; however, their plea for justice has remained unanswered. Passing the buck around and blame games orchestrated by the government won’t bring back the dead ones. It is only losing the remaining ground it has with the community.
Farooq Abdullah, then Chief Minister of state said, some powers didn’t want Chattisinghpora investigated. “I wanted the judge probing the fake encounter in Brakpora to look into the Chattisinghpora massacre too, but some powers did not want to do it”. He further said that he has some reservations about Chittisinghpora and he will make it public after his death in his book. Government kept blaming the foreign militants for the massacre. On the other hand no militant group has till now claimed the responsibility. The grieving families of carnage on being questioned, whom they think are responsible? Say, “either God knows or the killer knows it”.
The need for Justice
All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC) is the only voice which from time to time has raised the issue for delivering the justice. More recently after the Pathribal encounter was put to closure, the APSCC has demanded the re-probe of Chittisinghpora, Pathribal and Barckpora altogether.
The Sikhs in Kashmir are in a double disadvantage position. In 1989 when mass Pandit migration took place, Sikhs preferred to stay back. The Hindus versus Muslims discourse completely overshadowed the other groups in valley. Historically in the tribal invasion of October 31, 1947 a mass murder of Sikhs occurred; approximately 2332 Sikhs were killed in the valley alone (Sarna, Jasbir,1993). Sikhs were later targeted during the insurgency period. This had immense psychological impact on them and resulted in the migration of certain families for reasons of security.
What is unfortunate is that in all of this, Kashmiri Sikhs have been neglected while they have seen the worst of the insurgency related violence.
This massacre has had a huge effect on the psychological health of the community and it has harmed the comity between the two communities - Muslims and Sikhs. This has been further worsened by the threats to the Sikh community in the recent protests in Kashmir Valley. The content of the letters has been perceived as a direct threat to the safety of community. One such letter in 2010 read: “All Sikhs. Leave Kashmir. Go to India. Convert to Islam if you want to live in Kashmir.” Another one has been printed and it is slightly more subtle, urging Sikhs to join the protests against Indian rule: “If you don't join us, what are you doing here?” All this has inculcated a fear in the community and as a result many have migrated. There is no data available to confirm the emigration/migration numbers but it is not a mere speculation.
The eyes of an old women were brimming with tears while recounting the fateful night of March 20,2000. She said, “We never thought to see Jammu plains in lifetime but fear of death has shown us way”. She also lost her son and grandson in the massacre. The fright in the village post this horrendous incident made some of the villagers to sell their lands at minimum price as they were not sure if they could live there anymore. One other women while expressing her sorrow said, “Earlier we used to sell milk but now we buy it as many of villagers sold their cows”. The Chittisinghpora tragedy was followed by Mehajoor Nagar (five Sikh boys were killed in 2001).
The time-bound enquiry and justice for small minority can restore their confidence in the system. May be the family of Nanak Singh and many others will finally be able to move on if justice is served.
- The writer is a native Kashmiri Sikh women; she is a humanitarian worker and PhD candidate in JNU.