18 Years Since Chittisinghpura Massacre: A Long Wait for Justice
A victim’s family member shows bullet marks on the wall where the 36 Sikhs killed.
A victim’s family member shows bullet marks on the wall where the 36 Sikhs killed.(Photo: Aasif Shafi)

18 Years Since Chittisinghpura Massacre: A Long Wait for Justice

Eighteen years ago, on 20 March 2000, 36 Sikh men were shot dead in Chattisinghpora village of Anantnag, Kashmir. This massacre took place during then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, the first visit by a US President in 22 years.

 Photographs of those who were  killed in the massacre.
Photographs of those who were killed in the massacre.
(Photo: Aasif Shafi)

The massacre, which took place on the evening of 20 March, preceded Clinton's arrival by only a few hours. The killers came to the village at about 7:20 pm. They shunned the openness of the steep and twisting mountain road and hiked instead through the nearby apple orchards and rice fields.

Shishinder  Kour, wife of  Shaheed  Sestel  Singh, lost her husband in the massacre.
Shishinder Kour, wife of Shaheed Sestel Singh, lost her husband in the massacre.
(Photo: Aasif Shafi)

There were 15-20 attackers dressed in what appeared to be the regulation issue of the Indian Army, eye-witnesses have said. Villagers had lit candles and were listening to news of the presidential visit on transistor radios.

Children sit in front of a board commemorating the memory of the victims of the massacre.
Children sit in front of a board commemorating the memory of the victims of the massacre.
(Photo: Aasif Shafi)

The Indian government asserts that the massacre was carried out by Islamic militant groups Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujhaideen. The authorities blamed the gory incident on separatist militants, whom the army and J&K police claimed to have killed in an encounter five days later.

But the CBI, in its 2006 chargesheet, said that all five slain ‘foreign militants’ were unarmed civilians picked up from different areas of the district, and described the encounter as ‘fake’.

Officials have been accusing militants of the gruesome act, while separatist leaders blame intelligence agencies for the deed. Amid these accusations and counter-accusations, justice has become a casualty.

The government chose to probe other minor incidents related to the event. Demands from various quarters, including pro-India political parties and the Amnesty International, to probe the massacre have gone in vain. This has made the people believe that the government wants to conceal material facts about the killings. But the truth can be unveiled even now if the government conducts a thorough and impartial inquiry.

A victim’s family member shows bullet marks on the wall where the 36 sikhs killed.
A victim’s family member shows bullet marks on the wall where the 36 sikhs killed.
(Photo: Aasif Shafi)

Even as people observed the 18th anniversary of the massacre, the greatest tribute to the victims would be to bring the culprits to justice. The members of the minority Sikh community have called upon the state government “to unmask the killers and provide justice to the victims.”

“The authorities have failed to deliver justice all these years by not bringing the killers to book. That gory incident is etched on our minds and we will never forget that bloody night. Successive governments have failed to crack the case,” said the head of the “Nirmal Singh’’ Gurudwara.

A victim’s family member prays at the Gurudwara
A victim’s family member prays at the Gurudwara
(Photo: Aasif Shafi)
We don’t know  who was behind the killings. No inquiry was initiated into the incident and this has made us apprehensive. Our demand is that the matter should be investigated so that truth comes to fore
Richpal Singh
People pray at the shrine.
People pray at the shrine.
(Photo: Aasif Shafi)
 Bullet marks encircled with yellow paint.
Bullet marks encircled with yellow paint.
(Photo: Aasif Shafi)

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