E Y E W I T N E S S
Slaughter in Singhpora
A Village Becomes Kashmir's Latest Victim
By YUSUF JAMEEL Chitti Singhpora
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History Comes Tumbling Down They arrived in Chitti Singhpora at around 9:30 p.m., 25 heavily armed men dressed as Indian soldiers and claiming to be in search of Kashmiri separatist insurgents. They ordered the men of the village to line up outside a Sikh temple for questioning. Then, without warning, the soldiers opened fire. The villagers who were standing--34 in all--died on the spot; most of those who were squatting on the ground survived. Nanak Singh and his friend Sartaj Singh were wounded and left for dead. Nanak regained consciousness at a hospital in time to see Sartaj die of his wounds.
I reached Chitti Singhpora, a hamlet of 250 Sikh families in Indian-held Kashmir, 15 hours after the massacre. Shoes and sandals lay scattered in pools of blood. In the temple compound, bullet-riddled corpses of the slain men, ages 18 to 60, were covered in white sheets. Beside them, women mourned their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers. One woman, on seeing the bodies, had a heart attack and died--becoming the 36th victim.
The Indian government says the killers were disguised members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizb ul-Mujahedin, Pakistan-backed Islamic groups that have vowed to free Kashmir from Indian rule. (Both groups denied the charge.) Officials believe the attack was an attempt to draw President Clinton's attention to Kashmir and make him pressure India to accept outside mediation in its dispute with Pakistan over the troubled valley. If that was the intention, it didn't work: Clinton renewed his offer to help, but left it to Delhi and Islamabad to resolve the issue. The men of Chitti Singhpora died in vain.
Small communities of Sikhs have lived in Kashmir for centuries. But this is the first time they have been targeted in the decade-long insurgency. In the past, such attacks were directed at Pandits--Kashmiri Hindus--forcing most of them to flee the valley. Indian army officials say they didn't do more to safeguard Chitti Singhpora because they didn't think it faced a threat. Now, Kashmir's Sikhs are demanding protection--and blood. Hundreds gathered at the village last week, shouting anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim slogans. In neighboring towns, more than 20,000 Sikhs violated curfew orders to gather for prayer meetings. And in cities across northern India, thousands more took their protest to the streets, blaming the Indian government for not protecting its citizens. In Chitti Singhpora, protesters demanded arms. We are not cowards, shouted one Sikh. Give us weapons. We will fight the militants ourselves.