*Lalit Ambardar

Wandhama massacre picture
On 25th, January 1998, 24 Kashmiri Hindus living in the village of Wandhama were killed by islamic terrorists. According to the testimony of one of the survivors of the incident, a 14 year-old Hindu boy named Vinod Kuman Dhar, the terrorists came to their house dressed like Indian Army soldiers, had tea with them, waiting for a radio message indicating that all Pandit families in the village had been covered. After a brief conversation they rounded up all the members of the Hindu households and then summarily gunned them down with Kalashnikov rifles.

On the eve of the ‘world refugee day’ on June 20th, Kashmiri Hindu Pandit refugees in India & world over commemorated those who were martyred in the pan Islamism inspired secessionist violence in Kashmir. Pandits are in to the nineteenth year of their exile & justice continues to elude the community.

Two nation theory based partition of India plunged the subcontinent in to an unprecedented communal fire in 1947. Parts of J&K also experienced religious frenzy. Accession followed. And Pakistani raiders invaded the valley. Kashmiris arose & rallied behind the slogan “Hamlawar Khabardar, Hum Kashmiri Hein Tayyar” meaning “oh invader, be warned, we Kashmiris are prepared”. Hindu Pandits, leaving their miserable past since the medieval period behind, choose to be part of Naya Kashmir, keen to usher in to an era of equality & justice. This was when Mahatma Gandhi “saw a ray of hope in Kashmir”. That was the spirit of Kashmiriyat.

Over the years Kashmir has seen many political upheavals & intrigues which many believe gradually lead to the erosion of much acclaimed Kashmiriyat. Personal & motivated political ambitions became the principal priorities of the unscrupulous leaders .Eruption of religious frenzy became too frequent after every political demonstration of fissiparous nature. But Pandits were not deterred. They continued to remain firmly grounded to their roots. They did not live in ghettos. Hindu Pandit families continued to live in even ones & twos in remote areas of the valley in predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods. Over whelming presence of the minuscule minority could be felt in every nook & corner of the valley what with their temples dotting every ghat along the banks of the river Jhelum & most ponds, springs & hilltops in the valley. And the community managed to keep most of these places of worship functional.

Bonhomie between the aboriginal Pandits who were reduced to a minority over the centuries of persecution & the majority Muslims continued to exist even while the religion based separatist tendencies began to haunt the valley. Somehow, Kashmiriyat managed to survive. That was only until 1989-90 when ‘the gun’ was formally introduced in the valley founding what is widely recognised now as the ‘gun culture’. Innocent & unarmed Pandits were selectively targeted as part of the well planned ethnic cleansing process. Men, women including old & young were killed in most brutal manner often in full view of the public in the streets of Srinagar & other towns even while the loudspeakers of the mosques ranted provocative & threatening slogans to create fear psychosis amongst the beleaguered Pandits - Omar Abdullah of National conference candidly admitted to some of these macabre events in his blog recently - but that was too little & a bit too late. The state & the society in general had failed to protect the innocents. And finally the hapless community was forced to flee the valley.

Many non Kashmiris are oblivious of the fact that Kashmir had a very minimal crime rate; the crime was almost non existent. Even during worst of separatist political crisis it was usually Punjab Police- PP as locals would know them then, which used to be called in to support the local police to maintain law & order. In the wake of total administrative chaos & anarchy that prevailed in the winter of 1990, therefore, ‘kill one & scare a hundred’ strategy worked very well as the miniscule minority population was spread out sparsely all over the valley.

A very few amongst the Pandits did stay back till periodic violent attacks forced them to change their minds. Mass massacres at Sangrampura in 1997, Wandhama in 1998 & Nadimarg in 2003 shook the faith of those who had continued to live in the land of their ancestors even after the majority of Pandits had sought shelter in the plains outside the valley in the first phase of mass exodus in 1990. No, these were no riots. All individual as well as mass killings of Pandits all over the valley were well planned & executed with a motive – to cleanse the valley of the Hindu Pandits.

It is a pity that till date no case of brutality against the Pandits has ever been conclusively investigated . Therefore, no one stands punished.

As anticipated, Wandhama massacre case has also been formally closed as was reported recently. The official reason given - “the gunmen behind the massacre are untraceable”. There is no media uproar, no NGO activism visible.

Wandhama carnage was executed on the night of 25th January 1998, when all but one Pandits including men, women & children of the village were killed in cold blood. The only survivor -a child - had a miraculous escape. One infant received eighteen bullets. Wandhama is no remote village, not in some obscure corner of Kashmir. It is situated just 20 kms from Lal Chowk the heart of Srinagar in a politically very important constituency of Ganderbal.

The perpetrators & their over ground collaborators who should have been tried for crimes against humanity are free- many even masquerading now as Gandhians to appease the compulsive peaceniks. It was a bizarre exhibition of pervert mind set when a few months ago a self confessed sharp shooter who had earlier admitted in a private television video magazine, to the killings of dozens of Pandits in cold blood in full view of the public in the streets of Srinagar on the orders of his local masters, was accorded a traditional public welcome by the separatists on his release from the prison. No charges were pressed against the terrorist.

Terrorism is not now confined to Kashmir alone- rest of India is increasingly & visibly coming under the terror cover .It is not difficult to trace the source & motivation behind most jihadi terror attacks in the rest of India either directly to Kashmir or to POK & Pakistan via Kashmir. Therefore, the civil society in India & abroad must come forward to voice the concern against the menace of pan Islamic terrorism that has rendered Hindu Pandits refugees in their own country & is now hitting targets deep inside the mainland India. Suicide bombing at the Glasgow airport should be an eye opener.

Political expediency at the state & national level as well as the continued ‘great game’ at the global level can be no excuses for the continued denial of justice to the Pandits.

*Lalit Ambardar: A Building Design Consultant, presently based in Delhi. Has been a ‘programme coordinator’ for foreign TV & Radio bureaus. Regularly writes on 'Kashmir' in response columns of national dailies. Interests include acting & modelling.
Has acted in various tele- films, short films & TV serials for DD, Sony & Zee channels. Has done scores of ad films & print ads.

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