The 1998 Wandhama massacre refers to the murder of 23 Kashmiri Pandit Hindus in the town of Wandhama in Jammu and Kashmir on 25 January 1998. The victims included four children, nine women and 10 men. Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for perpetrating this massacre.
The attackers also demolished a Hindu temple and a house.
Wandhama is a small town near Ganderbal in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state had a minority population of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, over a half of a million of whom fled from the Kashmir valley to the Hindu-majority Jammu part of the state after militancy erupted in the region. The Wandhama Pandits consisted of Pandits who chose to remain in their homeland despite the rise in violence, as well as those Pandits who returned to the region from refugee camps in Jammu.
On 25 January 1998, 23 Kashmiri Pandits living in the village of Wandhama were killed by unidentified gunmen. According to the testimony of one of the survivors of the incident, a 14-year-old Hindu boy named Vinod Kuman Dhar, the gunmen came to their house dressed like Indian Army soldiers, had tea with them, waiting for a radio message indicating that all Pandit families in the village had been covered. After a brief conversation they rounded up all the members of the Hindu households and then summarily gunned them down with Kalashnikov rifles The massacre was allegedly committed by Abdul Hamid Gada of Hizbul Mujahideen and was timed to coincide with the Shab-e-Qadar, the holiest night of the month of Ramzan, when believers stay awake until dawn. Gada was subsequently shot dead by Indian security forces in 2000.
Kashmir's Divisional Commissioner S L Bhat, who knew some of the Pandits personally, was quick to arrive at the scene of the carnage. He said, "This is the worst incident I have witnessed, I believe foreign militants were involved in the massacre".
After the massacre, the local Hindu temple was destroyed, as were the houses of the Pandits.
The Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) community all over the world reacted with shock and outrage at the incident. All prominent Pandit organisations asked the Centre to dismiss the Farooq Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir and demanded a fresh look into their "rehabilitation".
Roots In Kashmir a frontline worldwide organisation of Kashmiri Pandit Youth also expressed shock over the incident. The group came out strongly against the Government attitude while conducting the investigation.
On the 10th anniversary of Wandhama Massacre; Roots In Kashmir, Coordinator, Aditya Raj Kaul said:
While a case was registered by the local police, yet no action was taken to even detect or find out who the culprits were. This incident shames the Indian state and clearly reflects its bias against Kashmiri Pandits.
Panun Kashmir Convenor Agnishekhar said:
We unanimously reiterate our loss of faith in the Farooq Abdullah government's competence to control the situation in Kashmir, where the remaining Pandits are butchered by militants as the administration watches on,`` said Panun Kashmir Convenor Dr Agnishekhar
The day after the incident, agitating Kashmiri Pandits clashed with police in the Capital, New Delhi, when they broke barricades and tried to force their way to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). At least 11 Kashmiri Pandits, including Panun Kashmir convenor Dr Agnishekhar, were injured when they were hit by water cannon. Dr Agnishekhar fell unconscious and rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
In a press release, the Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF) in Washington D.C. condemned the carnage and demanded military protection.
The details of the latest carnage are of unprecedented proportions ... Following the massacre, the militants torched their homes and the nearby Hindu Temple, before escaping into the vastness of night. No group has so far claimed responsibility for this crime against humanity.
The Indo-American Kashmir Forum joined their apex organization in North America, the Kashmiri Overseas Association (KOA), in "condemning this brutal outrage on the Pandit minority in Kashmir":
The significance of this massacre, coming on the eve of a national celebration and in the constituency of Dr. Farooq Abdullah, the Chief Minister, is a further indication of the evil designs by fanatic Islamic warriors armed and supported by Pakistan. But even more importantly, it undermines any claims by the Central government in Delhi or by the State government that normalcy is returning in Kashmir. Indeed, since the return of the elected government in the state, Kashmiri Pandits have been the targets of three massacres, one in Sangrampura (March 1997), the other in Gool Gulabgarh (June 1997), and now the latest massacre in Wandhama (January 1998)
Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral joined the mourners in Kashmir's Wandhama village on 28 January. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Governor General K V Krishna Rao (retired), Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and Union Minister for Environment Saifuddin Soz. He said:
I have come here to express my grief on behalf of the nation. The people of Punjab had unitedly defeated the nefarious designs of the enemy. The people of Kashmir will also defeat the designs.
There were protests in several refugee camps where Kashmiri Pandits have been interred since their ethnic cleansing.
In 1999, The Jammu and Kashmir Yatheem Trust, one of the few non-governmental welfare organisations working in Kashmir, made an attempt to remedy this. Its survey placed the orphan population in the six districts of the Valley at 15,308
Local law enforcement authorities have been criticized for being dysfunctional in protecting the minority Hindus in Kashmir.