On this day, 20 years back, a phalanx of masked terrorists in military clothes had barged into the Sikh-dominated Chittisinghpora village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district and had killed 36 Sikh men in cold blood, hours before the then American President Bill Clinton’s India visit.
The attackers, 15-20 in number, as per the eye-witnesses’ account, split themselves into two groups and approached two Gurudwaras- Shaukeen Mohalla Gurdwara and Singh Sabha Sumandri Hall Gurdwara and made two groups of Sikhs stand outside the two gurdwaras in the area located just 150 metres apart, oblivious of the terrible fate that was about to befall them. The masked terrorists, in their murderous frenzy, opened indiscriminate fire at point-blank range, killing 36 of them.
According to the only lone survivor Nanak Singh, who miraculously dodged an imminent death, he sensed something was amiss as soon as the terrorists who were masquerading themselves as Army men lined up the men outside the Gurudwara and asked them about a group of terrorists who were according to their intel going to visit the village. Nanak, who lost his son, brother and three cousins that macabre evening, recounted the horrible tragedy, which left dozens of pious Sikh men dead.
“Soon after the leader of the pack ordered to shoot at us indiscriminately, I dropped to the ground and played possum. I was frantically praying to God under my breath to save me. After a while, they stopped firing at us and flashed torches at us to determine anyone has survived their volley of bullets. One of them said ‘Akh round aur maro saalu ko. Koi nahi bachna chahiye (Shoot these idiots again. Make sure everyone is dead)’,” Singh said.
However, Singh managed to evade death this time again as the bullet shot at him pierced through his leg but he laid motionless, giving an impression to the murderers that life is already snuffed out of him. Singh claims that the assailants then fled the village. Singh was rushed to the Anantnag district hospital from where he was shifted to a speciality hospital in Srinagar. Later, he was referred to an army hospital where he stayed for 25 days and was operated on once. Singh then travelled to Amritsar where a senior doctor treated him. It took him months to recover from his injuries and much longer to get over the mental trauma.
Every year, Sikhs in the Chittisinghpura pay homage to the departed souls on the anniversary of the massacre. They commemorate the fallen ones by observing three days of mourning and memorial events. However, they have not been served with closure as justice still eludes them, 20 years after the tragedy.
According to the Intelligence agencies, the attack was carried out by Pakistan sponsored terror outfits, ahead of American President Bill Clinton’s visit, to draw international attention towards the vexed issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The government asserted that the targeted killing was carried out by Islamic militant groups Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen, like the other massacres in Jammu and Kashmir that have been happening for years. Five days later, the army and Jammu and Kashmir police had killed the terrorists allegedly involved with the massacre. There were claims that the government has not done a thorough investigation. The CBI had filed a charge sheet alleging that the persons killed in Pathribal were local Kashmiris and not Pakistani terrorists.
Massacre of innocent, unarmed villagers, especially non-Muslims, has been a regular occurrence in Jammu and Kashmir for decades. Islamist terrorists operating with secessionist forces in the valley have targeted non-Muslims on many occasions. Poor, innocent villagers in remote hamlets of the valley have on several occasions been massacred by terrorists. The Wandhama massacre of 1998, Chapnari massacre in the same year, the Nandimarg massacre of 2003, and the numerous terrorist attacks on Amarnath pilgrims are testimony to the brutalities.
A Lashkar militant Suhail Malik was arrested in connection with the massacre. When asked if he had regrets over the killings, Malik responded that he had no remorse that he participated in the massacre, which coincided with US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. However, he was later acquitted by a court in Delhi. Malik was a nephew of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed.
In the aftermath of the Mumbai 26/11 attack, in which a Pakistani-American Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley was arrested for his involvement in the attack, confessed that LeT was behind the Sikh massacre in 2000. The National Investigative Agency(NIA) contended that Headley said that a LeT operative called Muzzammil, an aide of Lashkar’s chief military commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, had spoken to him of his involvement in the Chittisinghpora massacre. However, the claim made by Headley cannot be independently corroborated.