Terrorists massacre Amarnath yatris
16-September 15, 2000
KS Correspondent reports
Holy Cave of Lord Amarnath, the cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi, historic
temple of Sharada (now in PoK) and Martand temple are four places, which have
sub-continental importance. The pilgrimages to these places foster strong sense
of cultural unity among the regional Hindu communities of the Indian
sub-continent. The refusal of the sectarian rulers of Pakistan to allow Hindu
Jathas to the Sharada temple in Neelam valley has in no way declined its
importance, particularly for the 50 lakh strong Sarsawat Brahmin community of
India, of which Kashmiri Hindus form an integral part.
During the last ten years of militancy raging in Kashmir, the
number of pilgrims visiting cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi has gone up seven
fold. In the case of Amarnath, every year the number of yatris goes on
increasing. In early fifties not more than six thousand people visited the holy
cave of Lord Amarnath. This year despite disruption, nearly one lakh and eighty
thousand people from the different corners of India braved the tough terrain and
terrorist threats to accomplish the pilgrimage.Today, in view of the frequent
`bans' on the yatra by theKashmiri separatist outfits, the nation looked to
success of this yatra as an indicator of national resolve.
For the mismanagement of the yatra this year, neither the
State government nor the Central government can escape the blame. Symbolic
assertions of the nation-state are crucial to the security of the nation. Safe
conduct of the yatra cannot be delinked from this. The yatra also provides good
economic revenue to the people of the Kashmir valley.
Despite warning signals, mismanagement and complacency were
seen all through the yatra. The J&K government's own Tourist departmentwas
claiming, at the beginning of the yatra, that the figure could go past 2-5 lakh
mark. Why it did not make commensurate arrangements? Its job does not end with
high-profile ads in national dailies. Unlike previous years the security job of
the yatra was not given to Army but to J&K Police. Reports even claim that the
State government had turned down Union Home Minister's suggestion that army be
deployed on entire route of yatra. This despite the warning that terrorists
planned to attack yatra. Even as early as May 25, the `Pioneer' had carried a
detailed review of the security threat to the yatra. It had reported that there
was heavy concentration of foreign mercenaries and Pakistani regulars on the
outflanks of the 48-km long mountainous track of yatra. The daily wrote, "due to
the concentration of the militants in this area, the threat has increased
manifold.. The security agencies anticipate a number of encounters
with the militant groups".
The government had even radio intercepts speaking about
possible attacks on soft targets. Yatra was on top of their agenda. On different
occasions earlier as well, militants had made determined moves to disrupt it.
There was every apprehension that in view of Pak bid to sabotage the
`ceasefire', yatra was obviously a softtarget. Inspite of this, Army this year
was not deployed in sufficient strength, nor the security beefed up. Only two
days earlier on July 30, a Tata Sumo vehicle carrying tourists to Gulmarg was
attacked by a 13 years old boy hired by militants. Why did it not still alert
the security forces or the State government.
Attack in Jammu:
On the morning of August 1, an alert constable Krishan Lal averted what could
have been a major tragedy overtaking the yatris in Jammu. As per reports, three
militants with affiliation to pan-Islamic Lashkar-e-Toiba came to attack yatris
at the registration counter, housed inside the premises of Govt Hari Singh High
School near Maheshi Gate. There were varying versions of the incident. One
version said the three militants had come to the school from nearby Christian
Colony at about 12-05 PM. When they were outside the school's boundary wall,
they put on monkey caps to conceal identity.
On being spotted by one of the pilgrims, who raised alarm, the militants opened
fire and began moving towards the school premises. Boundary wall served as good
protective cover for the pilgrims. Before the militants could enter the school
premises, constable Krishan Lal shot one of them dead. A few other policemen and
jawans of CRPF also retaliated but could not nab the other two militants.
However they managed to put yatris inside the classrooms in safety. Meanwhile
one of the militants, as per a report, hurled a grenade on the security
personnel, but it missed the target. The same report said that the militants
were imploring the police and CRPF jawans to hand over the pilgrims to them.
The slain militant, suspected by the police to be a Kashmiri,
carried an identity card of Abid Hussain Malik, reading in Aligarh Muslim
University and resident of Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. An AK-47 rifle was recovered
Massacre at Pahalgam:
What happened six hours later at Pahalgam drew international attention to the
sadist violence, indulged in by the"mujahids" against the innocent people.
Reporting in contemporary Kashmir has got messed up in multiple versions of the
same incident. That makes objectivity an obvious casualty.Mr Ahmed Ali Fayaz
(Daily Excelsior) wrote, "Deputy Commissioner GA Pir insists they were
foreigners. A policeman on duty claims that one was from a Pahalgam village and
another from Anantnag. But, one thing is common among the eye-witnesses that the
two bearded killers of 22 Amarnath pilgrims, 6 local civilians and 2 policemen,
danced triumphantly while choosing death for themselves too". "Thereheight was
moderate and complexion wheatish as is the case with the Kashmiris", a report
quoted a police officer saying this. Fake identity cards and the new recruitment
drive by LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammedi outfits involving local youth in the age
group of 13-16 years, for dare-devil acts is a new feature of the proxy-war in
The same report in `Excelsior' says, "It was literally
amacabre dance. Two youngsters-sporting beard, wearing olive green jackets and
brandishing AK-47 rifles-emerged out of the jungle at around 1845 hours on
Tuesday evening and began the massacre of pilgrims from a wooden culvert, called
Manzim Bridge. The stream beneath, often seen in Bollywood movies of Rajesh
Khanna, Asha Parekh period, was in spate. They spreayed bullets in all
directions, stormed into a Meerut Langar, and finally took position on a
metalled road on the left bank of nullah Aru. After leaving a total of 30 dead
and over 60 others wounded, the assailants tossed seven grenades on the
beautiful hutment of Hari Singh, the commanding officer of CRPF 61 Bn."
Another report said that as the militants reached the bridge,
they opened indiscriminate fire, hitting a woman in the leg. Then they ran
towards the CRPF picket, firing indiscriminately at yatris and shopkeepers. In
this torrential rain of bullets that lasted for about 25 minutes, thirteen
yatris and shopkeepers were killed on the spot. The next destination of
militants was the adjoining Meerut Bhandar, where 900 yatris from Meerut were
camping. Two grenades were tossed at a tent, killing one yatri and injuring four
others. As militants approached the camp, a BSF constable opened fire and scared
them away. Militants were running and firing towards the camp on both sides of
the road. A man, hit by a bullet on the bridge fell down into the Lidder stream
The grenades tossed at the CRPF bullet damaged a car by
standing there. Meanwhile CO was contacted at his office but he failed to reach
the spot due to heavy gunfire at his home. Sentry SC Choudhary engaged the
militants and in the fierce encounter that followed, he felled down one, who had
hid behind a car and a massive rock. The other militant, 100 yards away on the
Aru road was gunned by a BSF soldier. "Calm prevailed but only after the duo
danced whilecrying that they had accomplished their mission".
Prem Lata, a teacher from Ludhiana who saw the militants, wearing police uniform
and firing indiscriminately alleged that the militants were selectively killing
pilgrims only. She took cover in her bus, the wind screen of which was damaged
as the killers emptied their volley of bullets. Baba Naresh of Gujrat, another
eyewitness claimed militants killed a baba after entering his tent.Ravinder
Kumar of Haryana said near Meerut langar, where militants brandished their
concealed weapons, a barber and his customers were the first targets. "A broken
mirror, a blood drenched cap and the splattered blood on the spot gave the idea
of their act". Firingon the moving pilgrims, they moved towards the small
bridge. After crossing it, they entered the area where the langar and tents were
set up. There a heavy exchange of fire took place between the militants and
security forces, leading to the killing of some pilgrims and local labourers in
the cross-firing. However, the militants managed to escape from the area.
Poonam Goyal from Meerut received three bullets in her leg and abdomen. Both her
daughter and husband were injured, while her missing son was presumably dead.
Arvind Kumar Verma had multiple fractures in his left leg.
Arun Kumar of Delhi, who ran a langar said the militants held AK-47 rifles and
one of them even changed his magazine while killing yatris. Kuldeep Kumar,
driver of a bus damaged in the firing was hit by a bullet in the leg. He said
that one of the militants firing from under the bus finally came out and was
killed by a CRPF jawan. Around four thousand yatris were camping in Pahalgam at
the time of attack.Ram Sahgal, a pilgrim from Delhi said the militants, as they
engaged in indiscriminate firing roamed freely in a radius of about half a
km.Bharat Sharma, a travel agency owner of Agra, told reporters that "the
militants began firing from a hill top and also from underneath a bus". One of
the Sikh sewadars was hit by a burst of automatic fire standing besides him
collapsed in a pool of blood.
Eyewitnesses said that prompt response by paramilitary
personnel killed two militants, while another escaped in a Maruti van. He was
also wearing police uniform. Another version claimed two militants were held
captive by the Army.
As the bullets rained all around, people scrambled under the
parked vehicles or took shelter under the trees along the Lidder bank. CRPF
personnel were seen advising yatris to remain calm. Many others managed to
escape in the waiting vehicles. A large number of vehicles, including cars and
buses, also showed marks of the indiscriminate firing. While many glass panes
stood broken, tyres were punctured due to the impact of bullets. The bodies of
the pilgrims and other civilians were removed by security forces men and
pilgrims during the night itself while the "unclaimed bodies" of the militants
were kept at the police station.
The survivors with nightmarish experiences recalled the good
job done by Srinagar doctors and Army, BSF and CRPF. They were bitter against
JKP and said the state police looked the other way when militants struck.
The Hindu, quoted a pilgrim as saying, "after the massacre,
their personnel prevented us from helping the injured and taking them to
hospital. Instead of helping the victims, they kept saying, "Ifyou come for the
yatra, you'll meet this fate". A senior officerof CRPF claimed that militants
had hurled five grenades, used 19 magazines and fired 570 rounds of AK fire and
57 live bullets were recovered from the slain terrorists. Meanwhile, a
three-member committee headed by Corps Commander of the Srinagar-based 15 corps,
JR Mukherjee has been appointed to probe the Pahalgam killings. The other
members of the committee include Messers C Phunsung, Home Secretary and GA Peer,
Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag.