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Terrorists massacre Amarnath yatris

August 16-September 15, 2000

KS Correspondent reports

The 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 from him.

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 Kashmir.

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 flowing below.

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.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

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