On a cloudy evening of March 20, 2000, Chattisingpora, a hilltop hamlet in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir’s (IIOJK)’s Islamabad district, became the site of a massacre that claimed the lives of 35 men and children of the region’s minority Sikh community.
It happened close to then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. The assailants in disguise, lined up the Sikhs from the village, and shot them to death.
Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed several carnages since 1931 during the Kashmir agitation against Dogras and Jammu and Rajouri massacres in 1947 after partition of sub-continent and later at the hands of Indian forces in 1990s including Gawakadal, Handwara, Zakoora, Tengpora, Hawal, Bijbehara, Sopore and Kupwara massacres in which hundreds of thousands of innocent Kashmir were butchered by Dogra forces, Hindu militants from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Indian forces, but in year 2000 when the then President of United States Bill Clinton was due to visit India, India through its Hindu extremist organisation, RSS, turned its attention towards the Sikhs of the IIOJK to not only suppress the freedom movement in Kashmir but also create an impression upon the visiting US president that the Kashmir liberation movement was of a ‘communal nature’.
Earlier, India during 1990s succeeded in persuading the Pandit community to leave the Valley to communalize the Kashmir dispute, globally. Instead of offering protection to the Pandits, the Indian government issued advisories asking Pandits to quit the Kashmir Valley, and felicitated their departure to advance the RSS-devised plan of portraying Kashmir as a ‘communal’ issue and not an issue of right to self-determination. The notion is strengthened by the fact that despite several petitions, the Indian government has denied to investigate the Pandit migration from the Valley.
After Pandits, the Indian agencies advised their RSS agents to target the Sikh community. On March 20, 2000, 30-40 heavily armed men entered the Chittsinghpora village, located in Islamabad district and ordered all the Sikh men to assemble at the local ‘gurdwara’. The gunmen systematically shot and killed 35 of them.
But the survivours noticed something unusual. The attackers did not appear to be Kashmiris. They looked more like people from the Southern India. While leaving they chanted pro-India slogans.
The lone survivor of Chattisinghpora massacre, Nanak Singh, said, “They [RSS goons] were calling each other with the names Pawan, Bansi, Bahadur and they left while shouting ‘Jai Hind’. The stories of survivors are consistent. About 20 men, clad in olive green combat fatigues, arrived in the village at 7-15 p.m. They told the people that they were soldiers, and ordered the men out to be questioned. When the men were lined up in two groups, a few hundred metres from each other, the firing began. As they started firing, the gunmen shouted ‘Jai Mata Di’ and ‘Jai Hind’. While leaving, one of the men called out to his associates: “Gopal, chalo hamare saath” (Come with us, Gopal).
Under immense pressure to solve the case, the army later apprehended five Kashmiris and eliminated them in a staged shooting in Pathribal area. The Indian army claimed that the dead men were foreign militants who died in an exchange of fire, though none of the soldiers were injured in the incident.
The Indian army also claimed they were able to identify the men with the help of another militant who was arrested and aided them in locating their whereabouts. This militant was later freed after the authorities failed to present any corroborative evidence before the courts.
Following the Pathribal episode there was a huge outcry in Kashmir. The families of those who were killed maintained that they were locals and were picked up by the army before the alleged shootout. People protested for an investigation into the incident, but the trigger happy security forces killed nine more people in firing on the demonstrators in Brakpora on April 3, 2000. Among the dead were those related to the victims of Pathribal episode.
In 2017, Lt Gen (Retd) KS Gill, who was part of a CBI investigation in 2006 Pathribal fake encounter, in an interview to Sikh News Express, told Journalist Jasneet Singh that the Indian Army was involved in the massacre and the report had been submitted to L. K. Advani who was the Home Minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government then. On 9th May 2006, CBI concluded the investigation and filed a charge sheet against 5 personnel of 7 Rashtariya Rifles, while accepting that others were also involved. DNA analysis done under CBI proved that the five men were the ones who were abducted from their homes before the fake encounter. The CBI also found facts challenging the Indian army’s claim that the encounter was genuine, that while the bodies of the victims were burnt beyond recognition, their ‘hideout’ place was not. Finally, the investigation revealed that those killed in Pathribal were local Kashmiris who were indeed murdered, after their bodies were exhumed from the graves and identified by their families. Yet, the Indian army tried to exonerate the soldiers or its goons from RSS involved.
In the meantime, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrote in her memoir that Clinton suspected the hand of Hindu extremists in the Chittisinghpura incident. In her memoir titled ‘The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs’ (2006), she accused “Hindu Militants” of perpetrating the act. This angered the Indian government, and the publishers relented and agreed to make changes.
Over two decades have passed, the families of victims of Chattisinghpora, Pathribal and Barakpora massacres still seek justice. India understandably will never be honest about it, considering the circumstances that point to the complicity of the Indian army or involvement of Hindu extremist RSS and its agencies in the killings. Even otherwise India has a poor human rights record, considering its patronage to the Hindu extremists and lack of political will to punish them, as against minority groups who are often dealt with violently.
(Courtesy The News, Pakistan)