Unless the killing of innocents, irrespective of their religion, and irrespective of who was responsible for it, is universally condemned, the cleavage between communities would widen
The massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chhitsinghpora in Kashmir on March 20 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 caused great 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 everywhere 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 frustrated.
The tragedy had occasioned a rethinking on the part of many Kashmiris about the role of violence in achieving their objectives. For it is damaging their cause and defaming their movement. Moreover the militant groups were no longer under their control; they are now controlled from across the border. Since 1998, Hindus have became the direct targets of these militants simply because they were Hindus.
The killing of 25 Kashmiri Pandits at Wandhama and the mass killing of Hindus at Prankote, Champnari and Kishtwar in the Jammu region have taken a heavy toll of innocent lives. The secessionist leaders in Kashmir have tried to absolve the militants of such inhuman crimes by attributing them to the Indian security forces “in order to discredit the azadi movement.” But they have not produced any shred of evidence to prove their allegations whereas some contrary evidence has often been produced.
Despite Pakistan’s charge 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 responded to this 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 behave in a manner exactly opposite to what should have been done? This is not the first time this 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. Since then a number of similar incidents can be cited. In recent years, the Wandhama killing of Hindus was soon followed by the killing of seven innocent Muslims in Kishtwar.
Perhaps the security forces are provoked by the senseless and brutal killing of Hindus by militants who are Muslim. They are also encouraged to be more ruthless by cries of “free hand to the security forces” and warnings to human rights activists to desist from criticising the security forces. In its haste to claim it has successfully eliminated the militants responsible for the killings of the Sikhs, the army apparently was 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 an inquiry into what had been done to them. After week–long protest demonstrations, as the ranks of demonstrators swelled, the state police fired on them and killed seven civilians. Whatever the provocation, why were other methods not used to disperse the mob? Why were tear gas and water cannons not used before resorting to firing?
Chhitisinghpora wounds would not heal so soon. The bereaved families, Sikhs of the Valley, the community outside and many Hindus will continue to be haunted by the tragedy. But the Anantnag firing on Muslims tends to somewhat unburden the sense of guilt that they had felt over the killing 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 securer after the latest police firing.
The situation may perhaps be retrieved even now if an independent inquiry is held, if possible in association with Amnesty International, into both incidents — Chhitisinghpora and Anantnag — to locate the responsibility. Those held guilty must be punished severely. Even if the government is confident that Chhitisinghpora massacre was committed by the militants, the failure of various agencies to prevent it still needs an inquiry. Moreover, all those who were rightly agitated over the killing of Sikhs should equally strongly condemn the killing of Muslims.
Unless the killing of innocents, irrespective of their religion, and irrespective of who was responsible for it, is universally condemned, the cleavage between communities would widen and one set of killings would be justified by another set of killings; the victims in both cases will be innocent.
Archived from Communalism Combat, April 2000, Year 7 No. 58, Special Report 1