Rajeev Kumar Nagotra
12 of the 29 people massacred in Prankote, Reasi on the night of 17 April, 1998 were children. Some were merely 3 to 4 years old. They must have been hungry and tired of playing their favourite games all day, and waiting for their mothers to serve them supper. Their guts and heads were severed with axes. Because they were born to Hindu parents. An old man had a sharp rod pierced across his ears before being hacked to death. He had led the life of a Kafir and needed to die an exemplary death, one that could instill enough terror in his community. A house was set on fire to burn all its residents alive. When someone tried to flee, he was caught and thrown back into the burning house. A young girl, set ablaze, kept running for a few kilometers before she died in a nullah. There were not many of her faith in the village who could have saved her. Those who survived the night were the ones away from home at that time, or the ones who were young enough to be able to hide in the cowsheds and old enough to have a desire to live. Today they are the living ghosts of Prankote recounting the horrors of that night to whoever cares to stop by and listen.Their eyes have run dry but one can still see the smoldering embers in them. When you ask them about their lost ones, the names and relations are blurted out accurately while the minds seem to get busy sifting through the screams and flames of that night.
Abdul Haq of Thuru village, the alleged mastermind of the massacre, was killed by the security forces within 7 days of the carnage but there were 14 of them. Nothing is known about the rest of them. However, what is known for a fact is that this band of 14 did not fire a single bullet to carry out this carnage. They slaughtered the victims or burnt them alive. The mayhem unleashed upon these families of Prankote caused displacement of thousands of Hindus from the remote and isolated villages to denser and safer areas of Reasi. These internally displaced people are referred to as Jammu migrants, a collective term used for survivors of similar terror attacks aimed at ethnic cleansing of Hindus from the regions of Udhampur, Doda, Poonch and Rajouri. They should not and cannot be compared with Kashmiri Hindus for they have not been as well looked after or even solaced.
Sheltered in what appear to be the shanties of Talwara for the past 23 years, a complete generation has grown up in a state of abject destitution and neglect. The 5-6 year olds of 1998 are now in their late 20’s. None with a decent education, a stable employment or a steady income to live a life of dignity. As young kids they were taken in by the people of Reasi to work in their houses as servants. That status is not going to change for the rest of their life. The young women of 1998 are struggling with the diseases and infirmity that sets in with the middle age. They have no home to call their own and no hope of returning to where they were born as daughters or sent as brides. Back home they lived the lives of proud and hardworking wives, mothers and daughters of men who owned and tilled land. Today they are washing dishes in the houses of the neighbouring colonies in order to make both ends meet. The relief the families receive from the Government took 18 years to go from Rs 1600 per month to Rs 13000 and it has certainly not happened hands down. The mighty state/central governments that immediately transfer the inflation in international prices to their tax payers had to be summoned to and contested in courts in order to extract even the smallest of increment in relief for these marginalized people of Jammu. The intervention of courts did not come easy either. The impoverished migrants have had to protest for years on end, hold sit-ins and fasts, and yet, the meagre relief they receive does not even provide for a semblance of a decent life.
Since all of these terrorism-affected people would continue to be a minuscule minority should they choose to return to their homes in Prankote, Ghar-wapsi is not an option for them. Government must, therefore, seriously mull an integrated approach to compensate and rehabilitate these communities. On the highest priority must be the process of registering all the affected people and assessment of their loss. They must be compensated for their abandoned and damaged property back home. One member per family of the displaced families must be absorbed in government service so that they can begin to live a life of dignity. The future of these people does not have to be as dark as the past. So, education and skill development of the survivors’ children must also be planned without further delay. The Middle school that existed in Prankote was shifted to Talwara camp for this community. In the past twenty three years a generation of water has flown down the Chenab and a state-of-art bridge has come up across it but that school is still a Middle school, one without amenities and teachers. If one were to describe the condition of the school, the schools of the Dogra rule era would fare much better.
Those helming the education ministry at the centre with a budget of nearly 1 lakh crore rupees and education department in J&K should hang their heads in shame if they cannot provide a higher secondary school to these forsaken children of Mother India languishing in the hinterland of Reasi. Likewise a dedicated PHC providing all the basic health services is another fundamental right of these people. After all, they are literally the last men standing in the queue and a litmus test of any human development or healing touch that the governments boast of viz a viz Jammu and Kashmir.
While the high, the holy and the mighty are converging at the Kumbh in Haridwar, humanity is hiding denuded, dispossessed and slighted at the Talwara camp. Six Chief Ministers and as many Governors have failed to restore the honour of Prankote survivors. The incumbent LG must act with alacrity to reach out to them if indeed his government means to be empathetic to the people of Jammu.
Rajeev Kumar Nagotra