Twenty-five people fell to forces’ bullets in the northern town of Handwara, barely four days after a horrific massacre in Gaw Kadal, Srinagar.
The bloodbath was perpetrated when a large procession was heading towards the town.
“Everything was peaceful,” Nazir Ahmad Mir, a survivor, recalled. “People were hoisting green flags amid pro-freedom chants. Slogans against Jagmohan were also raised.”
“Suddenly BSF troopers in a TATA 407 vehicle, with registration number HVN-7717, appeared and opened unprovoked and indiscriminate fire on the protestors near the police station,” Mir said.
“Some people who escaped and entered the house of a local politician to save their lives were shot dead by his guards,” he said.
According to Mir, twenty-five persons were killed and dozens injured.
Recalling the incident, Tariq Ahmed, whose uncle Ghulam Hassan was among the dead said: “The government has no answer to our queries as to what led to this massacre. My uncle was not a militant but a protester. The troopers should not be spared but dealt with sternly.”
The status of the case registered by the police 20 years ago is unknown.
A worn-out copy of the First Information Report (FIR) of the case lies in the Handwara police station. This carries only the state government and the BSF version of the incident, and has no mention of the killing of innocent people.
It says that thousands of protestors drawn from villages were raising provocative slogans, and had attacked and torched a BSF Tata 407 vehicle carrying eatables, and also set the Dak Bungalow at Handwara on fire.
1998: Wandhama Massacre:
The eve of Ramadhan 27, Muslims believe, is better than 1000 months. On this night people change, their lives change, and their destiny changes. But in 1998, the blessed night witnessed the cold- blooded massacre of scores of villagers in a small hamlet in Gandarbal. This inhuman act changed Kashmir for good.
That year, the blessed night fell on January 25. In the entire Valley, people were immersed in prayer in mosques. The local mosque in Wandhama was no exception. At around 11.45 p.m. wailing women came rushing towards the masjid, and in no time, the blessed night turned into a nightmare for the villagers. Twenty-three residents, all Kashmiri Pandits, had been massacred in cold blood by masked gunmen.
The victims had resisted the migration of the Pandits in the early 90s and decided to stay back in the strife-torn Valley. The massacre evoked severe reactions across Kashmir. People demanded an impartial probe and severe punishment for those responsible. The Valley’s age-old bonds of brotherhood and peaceful co-existence were damaged further. The abode of the saints witnessed yet another migration. .
Sixteen-year-old Manoj Kumar Dhar, the lone eyewitness to the gruesome incident, said: “A group of masked gunmen barged into my house at about 11:30 p.m. 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 the 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,”
Sixteen 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 to have recovered a letter from the site of the massacre in which a thitherto unknown organization, the Intiqaam-ul-Muslimoon, had claimed responsibility for the carnage. According to the police, the letter had been found tagged to one of the bullet-riddled bodies. The police further said that people of both communities in Wandhama had blamed the shifting of an army camp from the area a few months ago.