Survivor of forgotten J&K massacre seeks government job

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first_imgJoginder Singh will never forget the night of July 19, 1999.He was barely four-and-a-half years old then, but remembers every moment in vivid detail. A group of 30-40 militants, mostly from the Hizbul Mujahideen, laid siege to his home in the mountainous, backwater village of Lehota in Jammu and Kashmir’s strife-torn Doda district.In 1998, the Indian Army had armed Joginder’s father, uncles and cousins, who constituted the Village Defence Committee with .303 rifles, as they had helped security forces combat militancy in the strife-torn area. This made them marked men.After a terrifying gun battle that lasted through the night, militants slaughtered 15 members of Mr. Singh’s immediate family, including his father, mother, two minor brothers, two uncles and grandmother. The incident occurred exactly a week before the Kargil conflict ended on July 26.“I remember that evening and the long, ghastly night like yesterday. It was cloudy and gloomy with the weather steadily deteriorating. My father and uncles had not anticipated an attack. The security forces were deployed in Kargil and other war zones. We were caught napping,” says Mr. Singh.Of the 20 persons in the house that night, only five, including his two sisters and an older brother, survived.“The militants, with their automatic rifles, unleashed a hail of bullets on us. As my loved ones started falling, my sister, only slightly older than I, dragged me out from the rear and hid me in an adjoining shed where we tied our livestock. The memory of my wounded father asking, ‘Who [among the family] is still alive?’ still sends shivers down my spine,” says Mr. Singh.After the tragedy, he was sent to the SOS Children’s Village in Jammu, where he shared camaraderie and painful memories with other orphaned children from the zone of strife.After completing his matriculation in 2012, he wished to study further. With education prospects in Jammu being bleak, and with Mr. Singh not wishing to be a burden on his sisters, he petitioned everyone from the then Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to the district Superintendent of Police. He was finally adopted by Sarhad, a Pune-based non-governmental organisation that helps students living in conflict zones resume their education.Sanjay Nahar, founder of Sarhad, says he received a call at the end of June 2012 from Mr. Azad, who referred Mr. Singh’s case to him. “He has been living with me since then,” says Mr. Nahar.Mr. Singh got his B.Com degree in 2017, the lone person from his village to graduate. He is now pursuing his M.Com and wants a government job to be able to help people in the conflict zone.He has toured different parts of Maharashtra, speaking to people about his experiences and urging the youth to desist from guns and violence.“All I request from the government is to give me a job that is commensurate with the sacrifice made by my family,” says Mr. Singh, who teaches young children at Sarhad. However, despite petitioning government agencies, he has drawn a blank.Mr. Nahar has done his bit too, but to no avail. Since 2016, he has met N.N. Vohra, the then Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, and Hansraj Ahir, who was Minister of State for Home Affairs, to petition them that Mr. Singh be given a Class I government job as his family was martyred in the attack. “Despite assurances, nothing has happened so far,” says Mr. Nahar.In December 2017, Mr. Nahar wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about Mr. Singh’s case. In January, the PMO referred the petition to the office of the Chief Secretary, Jammu & Kashmir to have it examined for “appropriate action”.“However, the matter of a decent job for Joginder is still hanging fire. All he has received are a couple of ill-paying, contractual job offers,” said Mr. Nahar. The frustration comes through in Mr. Nahar’s voice. “While this government talks tough on terrorism, is it so hard to recompense a youth whose entire family died fighting militancy?”Mr. Singh himself has all but given up. “My older brother, who was shot in the chest during the gun battle, works in a hotel in Bengaluru. My cousins work as daily wage labourers. I want to help support them, my sisters and other people scarred by similar experiences… I am only asking for my due for the sacrifices made by my parents, my uncles and cousins,” says Mr. Singh.last_img

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