Kids Corner

Images: Children of the deceased (including three of S. Darbari Singh) as they sat beside their fathers’ bodies. The author recalls how a BBC news reporter pulled out some sweets from her bag and offered them to the grieving children …

1984

India’s Other Sikh Massacre:
15 Years Ago In Chitti Singhpora -
It Was A BJP Government

HARSARAN SINGH

 

 

 



Our wounds are legion. Yet, in the face of evil, we continue to stand tall and firm and undaunted.    

 

 

This week marked exactly 15 years since the tragic day when Sikhs around the world woke up to yet another brutal massacre of innocent members of the community.

It was on 20 March, 2000 that 36 Sikh men and children were killed execution style in cold blood at Chitti Singhpora (”Chitthi” - literally, ‘letter’ or ’missive’ in Punjabi). [The town is also referred to as ‘Chattisinghpora‘.]

I was then living in Kashmir and was in the village on the day after the massacre.  

The Sikhs in this sparsely populated area of south Kashmir have been living here since their forefathers settled in Kashmir during the Khalsa Raj of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Mostly, the villagers were farmers with small land holdings. A few of their members were in government service. In all, it was not an affluent community.

On that cold rainy evening which was also the day Holi is celebrated all over India, people were herded out from their houses by masked armed gunmen and made to line up before being sprayed with automatic gunfire. Even children were not spared: one of the dead was a young boy aged 9 who was killed along with his father.

The day for the massacre had not been chosen at random by the murderers. The then President of United States, Bill Clinton, was in India on an official visit. Amidst worldwide condemnation of the incident, the finger of suspicion was, as intended by the perpetrators of the crime, automatically raised towards Pakistan.

Since 1989 an armed insurgent movement against the Indian administration had erupted in Kashmir. It was no secret that Pakistan had been overtly and covertly supporting the armed groups fighting for a free Kashmir. During the early days of the insurgency about half a million Kashmiri Brahmin Hindus left the valley and migrated to other parts of the country.

The minuscule Sikh community living in the valley decided against leaving their home and hearth and even during the worst bloodshed in the valley there was hardly any incident against the community. In fact the Sikhs and Muslims of Kashmir have always had a cordial coexistence.

This incident shook the faith of Sikhs around the world in the Kashmiri Muslim community. The militants were blamed of ethnic cleansing and wanting to erase any sign of a plural society in Kashmir.

Back in the United States, it was the powerful lobby and community members of the Sikh intelligentsia which rose up against the killings. They petitioned world leaders against this dastardly act and meetings with senators and congressmen in Washington became everyday news. Pakistan was badly cornered although almost all the militant organizations operating in Kashmir swore that they had no hand in this massacre.

While the killing left behind scores of broken families, widows and orphans, the Indian government was secretly rejoicing a major diplomatic coup. Indians noted jubilantly that even President Clinton, who had during his inaugural speech on January 20, 1993 mentioned the freedom struggle of Kashmir and equated it with Bosnia, had now been forced to ‘rethink’ his stance.

Bill Clinton condemned this incident while in Delhi and without naming Pakistan warned of stern action against the killings.

While the Indian media and the government immediately labelled it a terrorist hit against an unarmed ethnic minority, the facts started coming out within a few days.

There was an Indian army camp near Chitti Singhpora and the villagers knew quite a few of the army men since they patrolled the area frequently. On that fateful day many people from the village had seen the army men playing holi and applying colours to each other in their camp.

When the villagers were asked to assemble at two places in the village, eyewitnesses remember that they saw a few partially masked faces of the gunmen with “holi” colours on them and even recognized the voice of one “Subedar” (Corporal) who used to man a checkpoint near the village almost daily.

The gunmen appeared to be intoxicated and even offered drinks to the victims before shooting them. They even knew the names of the ones they wanted to, and did shoot -- they had called out a few of the men by name.

After the massacre, they left behind a few bottles of alcohol which clearly bore  distinct Indian Defence Service markings.

The question is: what would the militants and Pakistan have gained by killing innocent Sikh villagers at a time when the aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims was being discussed at diplomatic levels? The status of Kashmir as a disputed territory between India and Pakistan was suddenly getting recognition by the international community.

Even Syed Salahudin, the chief of the dreaded Hizb Ul Mujahideen group, swore that no Kashmiri or foreign militant was involved in the killings.

Five days after the massacre, on March 25, India’s Home Minister L.K. Advani claimed that its security forces had killed all the five Lashkar-e-­Taiyeba terrorists involved in the Chitti Singhpora massacre. He identified them as “foreign mercenaries” in the Indian parliament.

The place of this encounter was about 50 miles from Chitti Singhpora. Within days of this new incident, it was reported in the Indian media that all of the five thus killed were daily waging laborers from a remote village of Anantnag who were rounded up by an Indian army contingent led by one Colonel Bajaj and summarily executed.

After a public outcry, the bodies which had been buried in the forests by the army, were exhumed and the identity of each of the five was proven.

Surprisingly, the Indian army later denied that these people who had been by them were in any way involved in the Chitti Singhpora massacre!

There was no doubt any more that this second massacre too was stage-managed by the Indian Army, as was the earlier Chitti Singhpora massacre.

Till today, the army and police officials involved in these massacres have not been punished.

A few months before the Chitti Singhpora carnage, on 24 December, 1999, the ruling BJP in India -- it was then in power at the centre in India -- had to face ignominy and public flak when they released seven top terrorist leaders including Maulana Masud Azhar in exchange for the hijacked Indian Airlines 814 in Kandhar, Afghanistan.

Thus, the Chitti Singhpora carnage had served two purposes.

First, Pakistan was immediately castigated internationally as a terrorist state and isolated on the international forum.

Secondly, the BJP government of that time was successful in deflecting the public criticism for their surrender before the terrorists, thus laying the entire blame on ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency.

Between these diplomatic coups and conspiracies of the highest order, the Sikh community of Chitti Singhpora was scarred for life. Till this day, there has been no justice for them in a country which they call their own.


March 22, 2015
 

Conversation about this article

1: Ravinder Singh Khalsa (Los Angeles, California, USA), March 23, 2015, 4:51 PM.

The photo(s) accompanying this article is heartbreaking and makes me weep and angry. The only solution is for Sikhs to gain freedom, we will never get it in India. We must all stand together with Sikhs for Justice to voice our desire for freedom. Only then will we be able to successfully charge India with human rights and war crimes. We will then bring charges to others that want to destroy us, such as those in Afghanistan. We have to learn from the Jewish struggle and gain Azaadi. It's the only way.

2: Kaala Singh (Punjab), March 23, 2015, 7:54 PM.

@1: We keep talking about how we can learn from the Jews and that is it. After the Jewish Holocaust, they made self-defence training mandatory for every Jew -- male or female and this practice continues in Israel today and they have emerged as a military force not to be messed with despite their small numbers. Contrast this with the Sikhs of today, they are only capable of making noise and our foes know this and such incidents will keep happening. This particular incident happened during the previous BJP Government in which the Akali Dal was an ally and shared power. Did we hear even a whimper of protest from a political party which is supposed to represent the Sikhs? How can that be when the Sikh leaders, having ruined the economy of Punjab, constantly beg central grants? Most of them are corrupt and involved in criminal activities and capturing gurdwaras for personal gain. With a leadership having having little substance and with a society divided, our foes know very well that we can be played with. There is no comparison between Sikhs and Jews, when the best political leader we can produce is a Badal and not a Netanyahu, the best so-called military leader we can produce is a Bhindranwala and not a Moshe Dayan and the best we could produce in 1947 was a Tara Singh and not a Ben Gurion. The comparison ends here.

3: Kaala Singh (Punjab), March 23, 2015, 9:33 PM.

Here is some more insight into the state of affairs of Sikh political and religious institutions in India. the Akali Dals of various hues that have sprung up all over Punjab do not represent the Sikh society as a whole (their historical role notwithstanding), just like the BJP and Congress, they represent the interests of a dominant caste group. Both have a vested interest in sustaining each other and are least bothered about whatever happens in far-away Kashmir. Their politics is having a negative-effect on the Sikh community as a whole and also on Punjab and even those who practice this kind of politics. The gurdwaras are swindled of their money and this money ends up in the pockets of those who do not deserve it at all, and this money instead of being used to establish schools and to support victims of genocide, it ends up in the hands of drug-traffickers. Unlike the Jews who are known to make money with their innovation and industry, the Sikh leaders today (in the Indian context) are known for swindling money from the gurdwaras. In my opinion, we should not compare ourselves with the Jews until the time we become worthy of such a comparison.

4: Harsaran Singh (Indonesia), March 24, 2015, 6:06 AM.

Kaala Singh ji, since you have mentioned the state of affairs in current Sikh leadership and politics, I would like to inform the readers of a related incident. Immediately after this carnage (which I've written about hreinabove), while the Sikh sangat around the world were doing everything possible for mustering international opinion against the gruesome act, sending financial help to the next of kin of victims and protesting, our leadership was merely paying lip service. For the bhog of the victims, a 15 member delegation comprising of top leaders from Punjab flew down to Kashmir. They landed in the village, gave a couple of emotional speeches with the usual chest thumping, etc., and drove down to Srinagar. They were hosted as state guests by the government. These gentlemen spent the next few days enjoying the sights of the valley and did not even bother to even hold a press conference. A top IPS officer who hails from Punjab but posted in Kashmir was deputed by the government to look after these so-called VIP's. This is our leadership. It was in sharp contrast to ordinary people from Punjab, Delhi and the rest of the world who came to the village in their individual capacities and expressed solidarity. It was only because of these people that the community felt a sense of security. Therefore let us forget that there is any leadership to own us. We have to take our initiatives and support every effort whether individual or collective which is for the betterment of our community because only strong communities can dream of calling themselves a nation.

5: Kaala Singh (Punjab), March 24, 2015, 9:40 AM.

Harsaran Singh ji: You are absolutely correct. There is no Sikh leadership worth its salt at least in India. All we have is a bunch of stooges of mainstream Indian political parties. Out of the total Sikh population of about 30 million in India, 80% lives in Punjab. Hence, Punjab is naturally the epicentre of Sikh affairs. Any event in Punjab directly affects every Sikh living anywhere. Every Sikh living in any part of India or the world would naturally look towards Punjab and unfortunately the state of affairs in Punjab do not give any encouragement or succour. Punjab today is running on central dole and does not have the capacity to help any Sikh anywhere, tall claims notwithstanding. The Akalis of today are trying to spread their tentacles outside Punjab to control more and more gurdwaras and siphon-off their money and hence their lip-service to communities outside Punjab.

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15 Years Ago In Chitti Singhpora -
It Was A BJP Government"









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