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.
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
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
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”.
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
(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
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
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.”
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
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
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:
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.