Revisiting Chattisingpora: Nine years of agony

By Nazia Shafi, NAK

Srinagar: Sternly serious and morose eyes of Balbir Kaur, a young widow of Ravinder Singh speak volumes about what befell on the villagers nine years ago, Chattisingpora 20 minutes drive away from the main town of Anantnag (South Kashmir) and on the way of Mattan Achabal road. It is a mixed community with Sikh inhabitants in majority.

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On entering the remote village of Chattisingpora you come across secluded slopes, shuddering silence and deserted snake like lanes. The water in the brook divides the village into Showkeen Mohalla and Khalsa Mohalla which flows with steady pace as if still mourning the tragic death of its natives.

Even after nine years, Chattisingpora seems to overcast with the ordeal which the whole village went through on the 20th March, first year of the new millennium when 35 Sikhs were shot down by unidentified gunmen.

Today, on entering the village the first glance that meets the eye is a glass framed bricked wall which is dotted with bullet marks. There are two such spots in the village where the Sikhs were lined up and shot indiscriminately.

The truth behind the massacre has become a mystery which remains unresolved till date. The questions like who is guilty for the killings and what led to the massacre are still unanswered. “I don’t think the culprits would be ever punished for the heinous crime they have committed, and we believe it is not handwork of some local militant group” says Karam Singh the native of the village who survived as he was out of the village on that fateful evening. He adds, “There is a deep rooted conspiracy behind the incident which we don’t feel would ever be unraveled now.”

Just after three days of the massacre Balbir’s mother-in-law died due to prolonged illness and she was left alone with her two minor children. To provide them with good parenting and healthy upbringing, she preferred to marry her then teenager brother-in-law, Davinder Singh. Her children are unaware of the reality; they consider Davinder as their biological father. With passing years Balbir is apprehensive regarding the inquisitive questions of her growing children, such as who is the other person in the photograph hanging in their bedroom or whose photographs are hanging in the Gurudwara. Many young widows like Balbir remarried under the same circumstances and are now facing the same plight.

Gurdeep Singh aged 18 who is pursuing his twelfth class and aspires to be a software engineer sounds much older than his age, he lost five of his family members in the massacre. He is survived with his mother who is a laboratory assistant and two siblings studying in a private school. Being the eldest male member in his family he has been shouldering the family responsibilities. “I do all the household chores which my father used to do when he was alive and I along with my mother take all the decisions in the family” says Gurdeep with a sense of responsibility and maturity. While speaking about that fateful day, he says “I was shifted to my neighbors’ house for 12 days and hardly knew what had happened in my family/ village”. He attached no personal touch to this tragic event as the mourning period was held at the Gurudwara where all the martyrs were cremated. He recalls, not been able to see the dead body of his father or other family members as it had become a community issue. He adds, even now in their family nobody gathers the courage to talk to each other about the loss of life they have faced. The untimely added responsibilities clearly indicate the lack of opportunity to express personal grief and catharsis.

Although Chattisingpora is still waiting to achieve their right to justice but at the same time there was no dearth of financial assistance from all who visited or heard about the massacre. A number of people from different communities and leaders cutting across party lines visited the hapless village after the incident. They have offered money to the next of kin of those killed. Apart from ex-gratia, government made 32 appointments of the kins of those killed in the massacre. Most evident change in Chattisingpora today is economic imbalance in the village leading to a class divide. “Poor have become rich and rich have become poor” asserts Karam Singh. The rivalry between the neighbors is quite visible with the way and tone they use to narrate their miseries and losses. Another change is women being rendered more vulnerable vis a vis their mental health deteriorating to an extent of being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), says a local doctor

“Over these years 20th March has been confined to commemorate the martyrs with certain religious rituals and several speeches, says Karam. The natives of the village are struggling for their survival and livelihood issues that they seem to have lost interest about what level has the judicial probe reached, the recommendations of the enquiry committee and the subsequent role of the Guruprabandak committee. Courtesy, the Government enquiring a probe but not been able to execute speedy justice.

“Another problem that has emerged for the dependent aged parents who were left out of the purview of relief package as the dependent wife of the deceased was legally entitled to the compensation which has led to a socioeconomic problem and familial conflict. “I have no support both emotional and financial; I lost my son to the storming bullets and have noon to maintain me, the compensation was extended to my daughter in law” reaffirms a frail elderly woman.

The month of March brings new beginning and hope to everyone but for the people of Chattisingpora it begins with commemorating the death of their beloveds.