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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

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Wandhama’s agony retold

Wandhama failed to live up to its name everytime in recent history. Wandhama in Kashmiri means ‘hot in winter’ i.e. providing comfort to its people. There is an interesting story about how Wandhama came to be inhabited by human population. In old days gone by, it was a dense forest, full of thorny bushes called by Kashmiris as Krahdazand. Extreme poverty forced Mansa Ram Bhat and his brother, Ramchand to abandon their ancestral village Kaloosa in Bandipore. While Ramchand settled down in Manigam, Mansa Ram came to Wandhama.

Mansa Ram had a big family of seven sons to support. He spent first year taking shelter under the thick Krahdazand. Then he built a thatched small hut called Pahri during the second season. Soon two more families of Naba Shah, a Pir family and Babas, a peasant family came and settled down in Wandhama. The descendants of three families today form more than ninety families. Of these twelve families are Kashmiri Pandits. Most of the Peers have deserted the village. The ethnic-cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus has made Wandhama a one community village now.

Tribal Raid:

On the eve of the tribal raid, six Pandit families of Narayan Bhat, Tarak Bhat, Govind Bhat, Shankar Bhat, Prasad Bhat and Maheshwar Nath Bhat were living peacefully in the Pandit Mohalla of the village. Diversion of raiders to Sumbal made Pandits of Wandhama vulnerable to attacks.

In Wandhama, National Conference influence was virtually non-existent. Saifullah Shah (Peer) was the local politician, who owed allegiance to pro-Pak Muslim Conference. His house was situated at one end of the village, bordering Barsoo. Despite tension, Kashmiri Pandits of Wandhama had refused to leave. They belonged to poor peasantry section of the village. Extreme insecurity forced them to stay put in the village.

When raiders entered Sumbal, Saifullah Shah invited them for a dinner. Raiders stayed in Wandhama for two days. Locals informed Pandits that raiders had come to Saifullah’s house and for their safety it was desirable that they must move out. All the six families left but separately. Some left in the evening and some later during the night. However, one member from each family stayed back. Shankar Bhat, Maheshwar Nath, Ram Bhat, Tarak Bhat, Sarvanand Bhat and Narain Bhat hoped to salvage their property.

After Pandit families moved out, two Muslim Conference workers Kamal Sheikh and Ahad Sheikh of the adjoining village, Thiur hoisted Pakistani flags over their houses. Soon after, a local mob instigated by AS Shah of Wandhama came to loot and burn Pandit houses. Kashmiri Pandits who had stayed back on seeing looters apprehended danger to their lives. They managed to escape, before the looters could burn the houses. Loot was started in their presence. Even Paddy stores of Pandits were opened and looted.

These Pandits could not keep contact with one another when loot started and left individually. While moving towards Srinagar, Indian Army mistook them for tribal raiders. Narain Bhat was killed at Beehama, while Tarachand and Moshar Nath were injured at Duderhama. Narayan Bhat’s body lay on road for three days. It was cremated later by two Pandit volunteers. Wandhama Pandits were lodged in a refugee camp at Shiv Mandir in Rainawari.

Raiders were seven in number and left after Indian Army reached Wandhama. Those days justice was speedy. Strong action was taken against Saifullah Shah and three other Muslim Conference workers who had hoisted Pakistani flags. Saifullah was arrested and died in jail. His two sons Ahmed Syed and Mohiuddin left behind their families in Wandhama and went to Pakistan. They remarried there and never came back.

Rise of Terrorism:

After tribal raid, Badri Nath Dhar from adjoining Laar village settled down in Wandhama. In 1990, when the terrorists put the Pandit community on hit list, Narayan Bhat’s family took no chances. It migrated along with eight other families of Wandhama. A big mob from Barsoo had came and entered Pandit courtyards. They had used abusive and provocative language asking Pandits to leave. Pandit Sudershan Bhat, who was among those killed in 1998 massacre also advised his son Dileep Kumar and his two daughters to leave. Dileep had received some threats. Only Sudershan, his brother and Mrs Sudershan Bhat stayed back. Dileep had met his parents last time in January 1996. His parent’s last communication to him was in the forum of a letter in December, 1997 in which they had mentioned that they would visit them by January-end. But that was not to be.

After putting plan of ethnic-cleansing of Pandits into action, terrorists allowed few pockets of Kashmiri Pandits to stay on. It served a dual purpose. To the international gallery they claimed that their terrorists movement was non-communal and cited the instance of these Pandits. Secondly, when government drew up any plan for return of Kashmiri Pandits or the terrorists wanted to make big news, these ‘captive’ Pandits were made the soft targets. This has been happening since April 1997 Sangrampura massacre.

Terrorists would dole out false assurances of safety to these ‘captive Pandits’. Assadullah Mir, a hardcore terrorist and local ‘commander’ of Hizbul Mujahideen had also told Wandhama Pandits, “you are safe were”. Wandhama Pandits continued to live on his “assurances” and also on the security guaranteed by a security pocket.

Wandhama was waiting to happen. In the first week of January, 1998 two militants were killed in Wandhama in an encounter. The entire belt from Safapur to Kangan had become a free zone for foreign mercenaries. Media reports even talked about the political patronage these mercenaries enjoyed from the local politicians. For reasons best known to them, neither the state government nor the Army bothered to launch any concrete counter-insurgency campaign to throw away these mercenaries and deny them the hideouts. This despite the fact that a strategic national highway passes through this belt. Secondly, the state government made experimentations to enact a tokenist return of Pandits to soften lobbies at Centre, which pressed it for return of displaced Pandits. It made these experimentations in the absence of any concrete and cogent policy frame work for minority protection. Earlier also, when NC government built media hype on Pandits’ return, seven innocent Hindus were woken up in the middle of the night at Sangrampora on 22nd March, 1997 and brutally massacred. NC government was making attempts to enact a tokenist return on the eve of Wandhama massacre. It is established by circumstantial evidence.

A virtually non-existent group Nov Soan Kashmir Front had sent its members to Srinagar on January 25. It wanted to impress upon that fears of Displaced Kashmiri Hindus were exaggerated. Its activist Vinod Bhat was quoted by a national daily as having said, “the ghost of threat that was clinging us so far is no more troubling us. We are roaming freely in various parts of Srinagar city without any fear. Our main object is to visualise the thoughts of Muslims regarding we people. This fear is basically nothing but media-hype”. Only hours later occurred the Wandhama carnage. Shadi Lal, the leader of the group reacted by claiming, “Kashmiri militants can never indulge in such barbaric act. This is the work of fanatic mercenaries who know only to kill, kill...” The Divisional Commissioner remarked, “I don’t understand what for they want to go there. Everybody who is surviving has bid adieu to the place, so with whom will they talk.”

A splinter faction of Panun Kashmir had also said that it would declare the so-called return module at a function in New Delhi, which was to coincide with the Republic Day. Unmindful of Wandhama carnage, Abdul Ahad Vakil, Minister of Revenue and Rehabilitation in his address to the Republic Day gathering at the Bakshi Stadium had said, “The state government is making efforts for the safe return of the Kashmiri Pandits. We will not let any stone unturned to get them back as they are part of our culture and heritage”.

Carnage:

Terrorists struck on the intervening night of January 25 and January 26. Eyewitness accounts said twenty five terrorists in army dress swooped on the village at around 10 PM on Sunday. The terrorists first entered the house of Moti Lal Bhat, a Medical assistant in a local dispensary. From here groups of four terrorists were sent to other Pandit houses and the rest were asked to cordon the village. Moti Lal was a popular medical practitioner in the area and treated everybody who came for help with compassion. The family of his niece, Pinki had come from Shopian to fix up an engagement proposal for one of his children. Her husband, Shadi Lal had been recently transferred to Ganderbal as a wireless operator.

In Badri Nath’s house, there was a knock. Bearded terrorists, clad in Army dress asked permission to enter. It was not unusual for the family to give entry to such people in the past. The terrorists demanded tea which was served to them. Badri Nath’s family had come from Laar after 1947 and settled down in Wandhama. Around 11 PM, Badri Nath’s family had come to know that three other Pandit families living nearby were entertaining similar guests. After the tea was served to them, Badri Nath’s family members asked terrorists when would they leave. The terrorists assured them not to worry and said they would move out soon. One of the gunmen told Vinod (14) son of Badri Nath, “you are talking sweetly, we will not kill you”.

An hour later the radio set carried by one terrorists turned on and some one from other side cracked a message “poora gaon cordon ho gaya hai” (entire village has been cordoned). That was the moment one of the gunman stood up and ordered to shoot the family members down. Vinod alias Ashoo himself quickly sneaked to take refuge in the upper storey of his house. He heard bursts of gunfire and people shrieking. Vinod hid himself under the heap of dried cow-dung stored there. Within fifteen minutes everything fell silent. He was now the lone survivor among twenty-four Kashmiri Pandits who were staying in Wandhama.

Terrorists before escaping set ablaze the house of Moti Lal and the local temple. The gunmen in other three houses had also resorted to indiscriminate firing killing 1`5 Hindus. After the guns fell silent, Vinod came down to see the fate of his five family members. He thought that the villagers could provide help to his family members. To his dismay the villagers had gone to mosque for offering night long prayers on the occasion of Shab-i-Qadr.

There are different versions how the locals reacted after the massacre. According to one version locals heard the gun shots while they were offering prayers in the local mosque. They came out and visited the scene of devastation. Later they went to the Army camp at Barsoo, 3 kms away and informed the officers about the incident. As per locals, the Army refused to visit the village. Other reports said a group of women raised an alarm outside the mosque and informed the men-folk that the Pandit, houses had been attacked. The villagers seeing Moti Lal’s house and temple in flames deserted the village and returned only in the morning. Moti Lal’s limbs had been chopped off by the terrorists. Among the victims was a one-year old boy who had received 18 bullet wounds.

When correspondents visited Wandhama next morning, the small area behind the house of Moti Lal looked like a slaughter house. 17 bullet-ridden bodies were lying in a pool of blood. The policemen were pulling out charred bodies of six, including two women and two minors. A mother had unsuccessfully tried to save her infant by hiding him in her lap but both got killed together. The cop trying to separate them couldn’t. There was burning smell of the human flesh everywhere. Muzamil Jaleel, of Indian Express who went to cover the Wandhama massacre wrote, “As the flames of Moti Lal’s and Badri Nath's houses were being extinguished, there was a feeling everywhere that the price of this co-existence is high. The tragedy that struck during a night when the Sufi shrines of the Valley were all full of devotees.”

NC’s Role:

Pandits of the neighbouring villages, who had not moved out came to Wandhama and shouted slogans against Farooq government. They refused to cremate the dead bodies. They told the officials, “No, we will not allow you to perform their last rites here. We will take them to Jammu and show our countrymen what your government is doing to us”. They said Farooq government had failed to protect their lives and property. Police had to resort lathicharge to disperse them.

The role of NC government came under strong criticism. Chief Minister Dr Abdullah’s utterances were described irresponsible. He had said after the incident, “there is no possibility of Kashmiri Hindus’ honourable return to their homes in Kashmir in view of the wicked gameplan of Pakistan to create communal clashes”. He also added “....We will give training in the use of arms and even provide arms to the Kashmiri migrants desirous of returning home”. Despite this tragedy, Governor KV Krishna Rao did not cancel “At Home” function in Raj Bhawan. State BJP leaders boycotted this function. The state government went ahead with the winter games at Gulmarg scheduled for January 28. Even the Pandit community artists were forced to take part in the cultural programme despite their reservations. Hypocrisy of the Prime Minister IK Gujral was exposed when he went to Gulmarg and became a part of the extravaganza that was staged there. He had told Kashmiri Hindus of adjoining villages in Wandhama only few hours back, “I am here only to share some grief of yours. It is a day of mourning for all of us”. The state government did not even discharge its responsibility of bringing the ashes of victims to Jammu for Kriya despite repeated pleas by the relatives of the victims. Ashes were brought by JK Awami League members.

NC-Army Row:

Massacre created a row between Army and state government. Mr Ali Sagar, State Minister for home had stated that the Wandhama massacre was a security lapse, as it had occurred under the very nose of the local army camp. The Army said foreign militants having links with certain local political leaders and responsible for the massacre of 23 Kashmiri Pandits at Wandhama had been identified and would be neutralised soon. A Defence Ministry spokesman said that 10 to 12 militants carried out the massacre with confidence because of links with certain political leaders of the area. Army said security forces cannot provide security to each and every individual in the Valley. Their task was to ensure a generally secure atmosphere for the government and public to function and live peacefully which had been achieved. If at all threat existed to an individual or groups of individual, it was the duty of police and paramilitary forces to provide adequate protection. Col. Ghosh, the Army spokesman claimed that in this case, security forces had for the past one year maintained a general peaceful environment better than other areas of the Valley. He added on the night of the massacre, two-third of the strength at the post was out dominating surrounding areas to ensure that activities related with Eid were not hindered. Due to the din and noise of prayers broadcast through loud speakers from mosques on Shab-e-Qader, the sound of firing could not be heard and hence they could not react. Col. Ghosh further claimed that when troops noticed the blaze from the village they moved immediately and reached the site. The civilian intelligence was also unaware of the incident till the morning. The security forces were the first to react, he added. However local villagers claimed that despite assurances, soldiers came several hours after the massacre.

Wandhama could not have been avoided, because both the Central government and the State government ignored the intelligence reports which spoke of heavy infestation of foreign mercenaries in areas of Ganderbal, Safapor Mansbal besides Hajan in north Kashmir. Inspite of these reports no indepth study was made by the State government or the unified command on the nature of the security cover and offensive required to checkmate the militants. Prior to 1996, when NC government took over, the counter-insurgents led by Kuka Parrey had created terror in the hearts of terrorists’ sympa-thisers and kept this area free of foreign mercenaries and Hizb militants. Sustained campaign against counter-insurgents by many mainstream politicians and their disowning by the Central government only facilitated the ISI gameplan. The security picket in the village had also been removed at the instance of Muslim elders, who were allegedly instigated by terrorists.

Massacre accused killed:

On March 13, 3000 Rashtriya Rifles gunned down Hameed Gada at Sheikhpora, 3 kms from Ganderbal town. Gada alias Bombar Khan was affiliated with Hizbul Mujahideen and was at large for the last eight years. Gada was said to be the main mastermind behind the Wandhama carnage. Early in his carrier he killed two Kashmiri Pandits at Waskoora in Ganderbal as part of the Hizbul campaign to drive out even the remnants of Pandit community. He was also the killer of Pandit Janki Nath in Sumbal.

The other accomplices of Gada at the time of his elimination were Mohd Abdullah of Tulmulla and Mohd Maqbool Sheikh of Ganderbal. Gada himself belonged to Tulmulla.

Intriguingly the State and the Central government had at the time of massacre blamed the foreign mercenaries. Only Sudarshan Bhat’s son in Jammu had said that there was a local hand in the killings. Mr IK Gujral, the then Prime Minister had roared in Wandhama, “who were the killers and why did they act like this?” and had himself answered, “They had come from across the border. They were neither Kashmiri nor speaking local language”. Infact in every massacre involving the minority community, the active involvement of the locals of the area has been established by none other than state agencies. Mr Gujral granted Rs 20 lakh as relief to Vinod, the sole survivor in the massacre. This was done not out of genuine sympathy for the displaced Pandit community. It was to cover up his government’s callous disregard for the security of Pandits and connivance in the State government’s game of tokenist return.

The epithet to the Wandhama massacre was written by Dr Ajay Chrungoo, Chairman, Panun Kashmir. Fixing responsibility for the Wandhama carnage, he had remarked, “We are being made pawns in the dubious game of establishing ‘symbolic secularism’ in J&K and building legitimacy for National Conference regime. Time has arrived that the entire task of internally displaced Pandits and their return should be undertaken by the Central government in view of the reports of New Delhi’s own agencies about the presence of undesirable elements in state bureaucracy and allegations against some members of National Conference.

  • Moti Lal S/o Sri Kanth; Chotli W/o Moti Lal; Sanjay Kumar S/o Moti Lal; Seema Kumari D/o Moti Lal; Sarika D/o Moti Lal (Lady Police Constable); Vijay Kumari W/o Sanjay Kumar; Vinay Kumar (minor) S/o Sanjay Kumar; Neemu (minor) S/o Sanjay Kumar.

  • Shadi Lal (wireless operator); Mrs Shadi Lal; Vikas (minor) S/o Shadi Lal; Akshay Kumar S/o Shadi Lal.

  • Badri Nath S/o Shambu Nath; Ashaji W/o Badri Nath; Vinod Kumar alias Papu, son-in-law of Badri Nath; Jyoti, D/o Badri Nath; Meenakshi, D/o Badri Nath; Rakesh S/o Badri Nath

  • Kashi Nath S/o Shridhar Bhat; Vinod Kumar S/o Kashi Nath

  • Sudarshan S/o Tarachand; Dulari W/o Sudarshan Bhat, Triloki Nath, B/o Sudarshan.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

Kashmir History and Politics

Massacres

 

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