It is the 19th year and the gory scenes of that bloody day still haunt the survivors. In this beautiful village of Chatisingpora in south Kashmir’s Shangus area, 35 members of the minority Sikh community were massacred on the evening of March 20, 2000.
Nanak Singh, 62, is a witness to the massacre who lost his 16-year old son Gurmeet Singh, 25-year old brother Dalbeer Singh and three of his cousins in the gory incident.
“It was quarter to eight. The killers asked the villagers to come out of their houses and assemble at one place, saying that there was presence of militants in the area,” Singh recalls.
“The villagers who were in the Gurdwara were also asked to assemble outside. I was one among 19 people assembled near main Gurdwara and 17 more were queued up near another small Gurdwara in Shokipora,” he recalls.
“The gunmen offered wine to those assembled but it was rejected.”
“They trained guns towards us and started firing. Around me, there were bodies all around in a pool of blood. A bullet pierced through my hip but I survived, only to watch five of my family members being cremated,” says Nanak, amid sobs.
Nanak is baffled on the reluctance of the government in ordering an inquiry.
“Leave alone justice, what I fail to understand is what stopped the State and Central governments from ordering an inquiry into the horrific massacre of 35 Sikhs,” he asks.
He said that the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had expressed his helplessness in the matter saying he was not allowed to order inquiry. “We want to know who these hidden hands were,” said Nanak.
Nanak- a member of local Gurdwara Prabhandak committee – demanded a thorough inquiry of Chatisinghpora massacre as also reopening of Pathribal and Brakpora cases. “All the three cases are interlinked.”
Six days after the massacre, army claimed to have killed “five foreign militants” in an encounter in nearby Pathribal village, saying they were responsible for killings of the Sikhs. The army version was supported by police who termed it a “joint operation.”
It later turned out that all those killed in Pathribal were local civilians killed in a staged encounter, a fact confirmed by the central bureau of investigation (CBI).
Eight more civilians protesting against the Pathribal killings were killed in firing by police and paramilitary forces at Brakpora village on April 3.
Narender Kaur, 57, lost four members in her family including her husband in the massacre. “I can’t forget that evening. They asked the male members of our family to come out of house as they have to carry out searches,” says Kaur.
She says that her husband, brother in law and his two sons came out after the men assured them that they have only to check their identity cards and would leave them within 5 minutes.
“After some time, we heard gunshots followed by screams. I along with other neighbours rushed out only to see dead bodies lying all around,” says Kaur.
Kaur’s husband Gurbaksh Singh was killed in the incident leaving behind two daughters and aged father. Her brother in law Uttam Singh and his two sons Ajeet Paul Singh and Gurdeep Singh were also killed.
Jeet Kaul, 77, lost five members in the family. Her husband Fakir Singh and two sons – Karnail Singh and Seetal Singh – fell to the bullets while her grandsons Jitenander Singh and Sony Singh were also among those killed.
The families of all the victims are unanimously seeking an inquiry. “Though justice continues to elude the Pathribal victims and those killed in Brakpora, but at least truth has come to fore that army and police were responsible for these two incidents. In our case, the truth has been concealed for unknown reasons and no inquiry was conducted either by State or Central government,” the families lamented.
All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee Kashmir (APSCCK) while maintaining that it will continue to fight for justice sought bringing culprits to book.
“The delay in justice has led to disillusionment in the Sikh community,” said Jagmohan Raina, president APSCCK.
“We have always been maintaining that Chatisinghpora, Pathribal and Brakpora are a series of interlinked occurrences and hence can’t be taken up in isolation,” he said.
Raina said that even the Pandian Commission – set up into the killing of seven civilians at Brakpora – had recommended an inquiry commission for all three incidents stating that they were inter-linked.
Raina said the massacre of Sikhs on the eve of then US President’s visit suggested that it was pre-planned.
“A judicial probe suggested even by the supreme court was never ordered. An independent body should now carry out the probe so that truth comes to fore,” said Raina.
Local Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee said, “Those who orchestrated this massacre wanted to scare us out. But we were born here and will also die here.”
It was all praise for the majority Muslim community who “always stood by us in difficult circumstances.”