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The killing of Hamid Gada

Print edition : Apr 01, 2000 T+T-

THE elimination of Hamid Bhatt, alias Hamid Gada, alias Bambar Khan, perhaps Jammu and Kashmir's most important terrorist leader, is perhaps less important than what his life and death tell us about violence in that State today.

Gada was deeply influenced by the Jamaat-e-Islami's far-right brand of Islam, and it was this ideology of hate that drove his rise to the top rungs of the Hizbul Mujahideen. But his father, Khaliq Bhatt, has worked for decades looking after the Kheer Bha wani temple at Tulmulla, one of the most revered shrines for Kashmiri Hindus. Fayyaz Bhatt, Hamid Gada's brother, is a Special Police Officer (SPO) who works with an anti-terrorist unit of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. And the source who brought about Ga da's death was not a paid informer, but a Kashmiri Muslim constable who risked his life to end the Hizbul commander's reign of terror.

No one is entirely sure about the circumstances which led Gada to the Hizbul. He joined the organisation eight years ago, at the height of its power. The Hizbul was then engaged in a war not only against the Indian state but also organisations which supp orted independence for Kashmir. Some people claim that Gada was coerced by local Hizbul cadre into joining, after they threatened to execute his father for the supposed crime of working at the Tulmulla shrine. There is no evidence, however, to support th is story. Whatever the truth, Gada proved an enthusiastic recruit, distinguishing himself with a series of ruthless actions.

Some of Gada's targets were police and military personnel. But the murders that brought him notoriety were flagrantly communal ones. Early in his career he killed two Kashmiri Pandits at Waskoora in Ganderbal, part of the Hizbul campaign to drive out eve n the remnants of that community from the State. Sumbal resident Janaki Nath followed soon after. The worst of the Gada faction's killings was the massacre of 26 Pandits at the hamlet of Wandhama, nine of them women and four young children. The January 1 998 massacre was timed to coincide with the Shab-e-Qadar, the holiest night of the month of Ramzan, when believers stay awake until dawn.

Khaliq Bhatt, taking care of the shrine the Pandits of Wandhama would have visited regularly, never commented publicly on his son's actions. He did not, however, leave the temple job, an eloquent comment on what he thought of Gada's politics. Bhatt could easily have chosen a life of luxury. His son had put his power to work for profit, extorting money from Ganderbal businesses. Part of this money was used to acquire something of a Robin Hood image in the area, one of the reasons why Gada survived so man y years longer than others who joined the Hizbul along with him.

In retrospect, the Wandhama massacre paved the way for the end of Gada's life. While some politicians jumped to his defence at the time, with then Minister of State for Home Ali Mohammed Sagar insinuating that the massacre was carried out by the Army, mo st ordinary Kashmiris were disgusted by the action. Its sheer brutality, and the inflammatory nature of the pamphlets left at the site, showed that Gada's group had been hijacked by cadre from Pakistan, who are more rabidly communal than most Kashmiri te rrorists. Gada moved to contain the damage, breaking links with much of the Hizbul foreign cadre and operating independently of the organisation's hierarchy in Jammu and Kashmir.

But the damage had been done. For two years after Wandhama Gada enjoyed an almost mystical luck, with units of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG) missing him by minutes on over a dozen occasions. But on March 13, a local police c onstable walked into the SOG's Ganderbal office, with precise information on Gada's location. The constable, whose name is being withheld by Frontline in the interests of his security, reported that Gada along with his fellow Tulmulla resident Mohammad A bdullah, code-named Marshall, and Mohammad Maqbool Sheikh, again from the Ganderbal area, were holed up in the basement of a home in Sheikhpora.

Superintendent of Police (Operations) Jagtar Singh's prompt action probably ensured that Gada had no chance of escaping. He cordoned off the home with just 15 men, a risky tactic. But the element of surprise paid off, and the SOG unit succeeded in blocki ng Gada's escape until it was reinforced by Rashtriya Rifles troops. Security personnel and the three terrorists, whose basement hideout had been heavily reinforced, exchanged fire for almost five hours. Finally, the basement was blown up, using explosiv es. Seven assault rifles, a gun equipped to throw grenades, a night-vision device and 60 kg of RDX were discovered in the basement.

That he was one of the last major Kashmiri figures involved in terrorism in the State is not the only reason why Gada's killing is a significant development. His life illustrates that for every Jamaat-e-Islami-affiliated bigot in Jammu and Kashmir, there are any number of ordinary Muslims who have opposed such chauvinism, and fought to end it at the risk of their own lives. Their battles give the lie to the venomous anti-Muslim propaganda unleashed in the wake of the massacre at Chattisinghpora.

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