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Last Updated: Monday, 7 April, 2003, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
India stops Kashmir villagers fleeing
Altaf Hussain
BBC correspondent in Indian-administered Kashmir

Hindus in Indian-administered Kashmir who survived a massacre last month say the authorities have forcibly stopped them from fleeing their homes.

The village of Nadimarg in southern Kashmir, where 24 members of the minority Hindu community were gunned down two weeks ago, looks like a fortress.

More than 125 police have been deployed to guard the village which has a population of just 28.

A barbed-wire fencing has been put up around the village. But none of this has restored a sense of security to the villagers who survived the massacre.

Instead they feel as if they had been lodged in a prison.

'Held hostage'

Vicky, aged about 20, lost his whole family in the massacre.

"We are being held hostage. We are not allowed to move out of the village," he says.

"Yesterday, a boy, Deepak, dared to visit the neighbouring village of Yaripora. The Central Reserve Police Force beat him up and brought him back. They watch us even when we go out for our morning ablutions. We have become virtual prisoners."

Bodies of the victims are laid out
Men, women and children were victims in the attack

Movement of the Pandits, as Kashmir's Hindus are known, was restricted after they attempted to flee their homes a few days ago.

They set out for the Hindu-majority city of Jammu, some in vehicles and others on foot, carrying the ashes of their slain relatives.

But the police and military stopped them in the village of Bosul.

Police took away licenses and other documents from the drivers.

But the Pandits travelling in the vehicles were allowed to go up to the town of Khanabal after villager Moti Lal pleaded with the police that taking the ashes back home would be a sin.

Later, the authorities led by the state's Planning commissioner, Vijay Bakaya, had a meeting with the Pandits and persuaded them to go back to their homes.

'House arrest'

Vijay Kumar, a young man who is the only survivor in a family of nine, says the authorities promised to "do everything possible for us within 48 hours. But nothing has been done except that we have been placed under house arrest."

Mourner of slain villagers

Not only are the Pandits being stopped from moving out of the village, their Muslim friends from the neighbouring villages are being discouraged from visiting them too.

Vicky says: "Nobody has come here after the 10th day ceremony. A Muslim friend from the neighbourhood had been trying for the past three days to visit us but has been allowed in only today.

(The 10th day ceremony is observed by Hindus to mark the end of the mourning period after which people can start their normal routine.)

"Two of my friends used to come here to sleep at night. One of them was beaten up by the military the other day."

'Symbolic case'

A senior most police officer says that the government has been caught in an impossible situation.

"Nadimarg has become a symbolic case. If we let the Pandits flee their homes, we'll make a success of the enemy's game-plan. At the same time, the government would lose face if a single person from the village came to any harm now," the officer said.

Security apart, Vicky says it is too painful for him to stay in the village; for he is constantly reminded of his family members who were killed.

He says he would be able to relax in Jammu.

Vijay Kumar says he will flee to Jammu even if he has no food there.

While I was at Nadimarg on Sunday, the state's junior minister of industries, Raman Mattoo, himself a Pandit, visited the village to persuade the Pandits not to leave.

Meanwhile, at least 20 families from other villages across the Kashmir Valley have migrated to Jammu over the past week.

About 100,000 Pandits fled the armed conflict in the Valley in early 1990s. But 10,000 have stayed.


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