By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
New Delhi/Jammuâ€”Twenty-two villagers, living in remote areas of Panjdobi and Thava in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) were gunned down in a pre-dawn strike carried by heavily armed militants. Wearing combat dress, the militants gathered the villagers outside the houses of heads of Panjdobi and Thava hamlets at around 2 am (IST) this Monday (May 1). The firing opened by militants led to the gunning down of 22 people, including a nine-year old girl. Nine others were seriously injured.
The targeted area, is a remote one, without any security post nearby. The police learnt about the incident when an ex-serviceman escaped from the spot to inform them. Senior police officials rushed to the area. The injured were airlifted to Jammu in army choppers and admitted to hospital there.
Recalling the nightmare, a survivor suffering from bullet wounds in both legs and his left arm, Rajinder Kumar Sharma said: â€œThe militants first went to the house of revenue official Gopi Chand and told him to round up Hindus and bring them to his house.â€ Sharma is being treated in a Government Medical College. The militants said they wanted to â€œrevengeâ€ on the people who had helped the security forces the preceding year, Sharma said.
Though no group has claimed responsibility, Lashkar-e-Toiba is being blamed for these massacres.
Militants last struck against the stateâ€™s minority community in 2003, killing 24 Kashmiri Pundits in Nadimarg village near Shopian in Pulwama district.
Cutting across political, regional and religious lines, national and state leaders have strongly condemned the attack. Condemned the massacre, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said that he was saddened by the incident. In a message to Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the President also conveyed his sympathies and condolences to the next of kin of those killed and wished speedy recovery to the injured. Describing the killings as â€œdastardly and cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians,â€ Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: â€œPeople of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly.â€
Home Minister Shivraj Patil convened a high level meeting (Monday) to assess the situation in J&K. Later, the center asked the state government to review the security cover for minorities (Hindus) in J&K.
Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal condemned the killings, saying, â€œThe terrorists do not want the peace initiatives being taken by the center to succeed.â€
Taking note of militants having struck just ahead of proposed talks between Prime Minister and Hurriyat Conference (May 3), Home Secretary V.K. Duggal said: â€œThe incident clearly shows the desperation of the terrorists who want to hamper the peace process in the state.â€
Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in Delhi, returned to J&K to take stock of the situation. He met injured in the hospital and assured them the best possible treatment. Viewing the massacre as militantsÃ attempt to disturb the peace-process regarding J&K, Azad said: â€œThey (the militants) will try to derail this whole peace process but we have resolved that the peace process will continue whatsoever.â€ Condemning the killings as barbaric and heinous crimes, Azad said that humanity would never forgive these.
Home Minister Patil visited Doda on Tuesday to assess the situation.
Describing the attack as against Indo-Pak peace process, Deputy Chief Minister of J&K Muzaffar Baig said: â€œBy singling out Hindus for such a major massacre, they are sending a message to the entire Indian nation that this exercise (peace process) undertaken by the government is futile.â€ The militants also do not want talks between the center and Kashmiri leaders to succeed, Baig said.
Demanding a probe into the incident, former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and National Conference President Omar Abdullah said that people of the state are being punished for sins not committed by them. In a joint statement, they asked government to provide relief to bereaved families.
â€œWe strongly condemn the killing of our Hindu brethren in Doda and Udhampur districts. These acts, carried out by elements inimical to peace whenever there is a positive change in the situation, are aimed at derailing the peace process and harming the communal harmony in the state,â€ former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said.
Both factions of Hurriyat Conference have strongly condemned the killings. Demanding a probe into the incident, Hurriyat Chairman (hardline) Sayed Ali Shah Geelani said: â€œThis is an inhuman act. This is open terrorism and is against the Islamic principles to kill harmless people.â€
Seeking an impartial probe, Chairman of Hurriyat faction (moderate) Mirwaiz Umer Farooq observed that such incidents seem motivated to obstruct important developments regarding Kashmir issue.
Among others who have condemned the killings are Union Minister for Water Resources Saifuddin Soz, Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani, senior separatist (Kashmiri) leader Shabir Ahmed Shah, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, CPI (M) state leader M.Y. Tarigami and Vishwa Hindu Parishad general secretary Pravin Togadia.
VHP also called for imposition of PresidentÃs rule in the state. BJP chief Rajnath Singh cancelled his poll campaign program in Tamil Nadu to visit Doda and Udhampur.
To mark their protest against killing of Hindus, National Conference and Panthers Party observed a bandh in state on Tuesday. The leaders asserted they donâ€™t want stateâ€™s secular fabric to be disturbed by such incidents. Likewise, Hurriyat leaders signaled that they would hold talks with Prime Minister Singh scheduled for Wednesday. On Monday, they announced a six-member panel for Delhi-talks with Singh.