Aftermath of Chhitisinghpora Massacre of Sikhs
By Balraj Puri
The massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chhitisinghpora in Kashmir on 20 March and the way the situation was subsequently handled by the state government and the security forces have exposed the crisis of governance in the state and indicate the dangers ahead. The massacre had caused much greater outrage within and outside the state. Not only because it was the largest toll of innocent civilians allegedly taken by the militants but also because the victims were Sikhs who were considered safe so far. Forgetting their differences, the entire community united in launching massive protests every where against the outrageous act. At some places Hindu extremists tried to form a united front with them and divert their anger against Muslims. But as the latter, particularly in Kashmir, expressed full solidarity with the bereaved families and the Sikh community, through hartals and protest demonstrations, the designs of the communal forces were defeated.
The tragedy had occasioned a rethinking on the part of many Kashmiris about the use of violence in achieving their objectives. For it was damaging their cause and defaming their movement. Moreover the militant groups were no longer under their control, which was now controlled from across the border. From 1998, The Hindus became the direct targets of the militancy simply because they were Hindus. Starting from killings of 25 Kashmiri Pandits at Wandhama, the mass killings of Hindus at Prankote, Champnari and Kishtwar in Jammu region, took on average the same toll of lives. The secessionist leaders tried to absolve the militants of such inhuman crimes by attributing them to the security forces "in order to discredit the azadi movement." But they could not produce any shred of evidence to prove the allegations whereas some contrary evidence could often be produced. Despite Pakistan's assertion that Chhitisinghpora killings were done by the Indian army, most Kashmiri Muslims were willing to suspend their judgement and supported the demand for a credible inquiry. If the government had done that and handled the situation intelligently and tactfully, the militants could have been isolated and further bloodshed in the state could have been stopped. But why did the state government and the security forces behaved exactly opposite to what should have been done? This is not the first time it has happened. When Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq was killed in May 1990, the, indiscriminate firing on his funeral diverted the anger of his devout followers against militants to against the Indian government. From then on a number of such incidents can be cited. In the current phase, Wandhama killings of Hindus was soon followed by the killing of seven innocent Muslims in Kishtwar.
Perhaps the security forces are provoked by senseless brutal killings of Hindus by the Muslim militants. They are also encouraged to be more ruthless by cries of "free hand to the security forces" and warnings to human rights activists "to hands off" from criticizing the security forces. The haste with which the army claimed to have eliminated the militants responsible for the killings of the Sikhs apparently were not careful enough to distinguish between the militants, and local Muslims and the state government showed callous indifference to the demands of the parents of the missing youth to trace them and hold inquiry into what had been done to them. After week long protest demonstrations, when the ranks of demonstrators were swelled, the state police fired on them and killed seven civilians. Whatever the provocations, why were not other methods used to disperse the mob? Why could not tear gas and water cannons used before resort to firing?
Chhitisinghpora wounds would not be healed so soon. The bereaved families, Sikhs of the Valley, the community outside and many Hindus will continue to be haunted by the tragedy. But Anantnag firing on Muslims tends to somewhat unburden the sense of guilt that they had felt over killings of Sikhs in the name of their religion. Whatever extra security arrangements may be made for the protection of the Sikh community in the Valley, including supply of arms, they have not become more secure after the latest police firing.
Situation may perhaps be retrieved if an independent inquiry is held, into both the incidents -- Chhitisinghpora and Anantnag -- to locate responsibility: Those held guilty must be punished severely. If the government is confident that Chhitisinghpora massacre were done by the militants, even then the failure of various agencies to prevent it needs an inquiry. Moreover, all those who were rightly agitated over it, should equally condemn the killings of Muslims. Unless killing of innocents, irrespective of their religion, and irrespective of who was responsible for it, is universally condemned, cleavage between communities would widen and one set of killings would be justified by another set of killings; victims in both cases will be the innocent persons.
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