PERHAPS THERE IS A SPECIAL CORNER IN HELL Reserved for soldiers who fire their weapons indiscriminately into a crowd of unarmed civilians. That, at least, must have been the hope of every resident who defied an army-enforced curfew in the Kashmiri town of Sopore last Thursday to protest a massacre that left 55 people dead and scores injured. It was India’s latest blow in a three-year campaign to crush the predominantly Muslim state’s bid for independence. In retaliation for the killing of one soldier, paramilitary forces rampaged through Sopore’s market setting buildings ablaze and shooting bystanders. The Indian government pronounced the event “unfortunate” and claimed that an ammunition dump had been hit by gunfire, setting off fires that killed most of the victims said the TIME Magazine in a column on Jan. 18, 1993.
The history of Kashmir is replete with blood-curdling massacres perpetrated by security forces of which the wounds of infamous Sopore carnage are still fresh in the hearts of the aggrieved families. 17 years on, the government enquiry into the massacre has yielded nothing.
It was Wednesday chilly morning of January 6, 1993 when Border Security Forces (BSF) went berserk at around 9.30 am killing around 75 unarmed civilians including women and children, wounding nearly 300 people and property worth crores was completely gutted in the apple town of Sopore. On the fateful day, more than 300 people were injured in the tragic incident.
The innocent civilians were either shot dead or charred to death alive by the BSF personnel in order to avenge the death of a trooper who was killed when the BSF picket at Baba Yousuf Lane near the main street of Sopore town was attacked by militants just one hour before the mayhem occurred. The militants had also taken away the light machine gun of the trooper as he fell before absconding from the spot.
According to many eye-witnesses of the incident, the BSF personnel had publicly announced that they would teach the people a lesson for the killing of one soldier by the militants. At around 9.30 am, in retaliation to the killing of the trooper, the BSF personnel came out of their camps in and around Sopore and smashed almost everything which came their way. They resorted to indiscriminate firing and resorted to arson soon which is believed to be the biggest of its kind since the turmoil hit the valley in 1988.
The BSF jawans sprinkled gun powder along the market and set ablaze about 100 houses and 300 shops including Women’s degree college and Samad Talkies. The carnage continued for around two hours. The firemen who had rushed to the spot were not allowed to extinguish the flames and had to wait for two hours to start the fire-fighting operations. Flames and thick clouds of smoke from the fire-ravaged structures were billowing out till late evening, the local residents recall. The maximum casualties were reported due to the fire and firing incidents.
The troopers fired upon the passengers of an SRTC passenger bus, JKZ -1901 which was leaving for Bandipora and set the bus on fire after dousing it with gunpowder and in the process killing its 26 occupants. No passenger was allowed to come out of the vehicles when the bus was subjected to heavy firing, according to the eyewitnesses. Similarly, all the passengers of a car, JK 6075 were also charred to death. They also showered bullets on the father and son who were loading goods onto their truck in the Iqbal market leading to their on-the-spot death.
An eyewitness of the massacre who had miraculously survived the gruesome incident narrated how the angry troopers rampaged through the main market, went for a frenzied searching spree in every shop to prey on their catch and sprinkled the gun powder on the shops so that there was least possibility of the survival of the hapless victims.
While recollecting the horrendous incident, he added, “I was not mustering courage to step out of my shop on seeing the troopers who were running here and there, firing indiscriminately on the people on all sides. Suddenly a trooper entered into my shop and cocked his gun. But before he could fire the bullet at me, I offered him a brief case containing heavy cash. While he got engaged in counting the money, I somehow managed to escape from the spot amidst the firing.”
Many eyewitnesses of the gory incident said how the jawans brutally consigned people including children to flames. “I cannot forget the heart-rending incident when a trooper snatched a small child from the lap of a woman and threw it into the flames. As the mother of the child started shouting the trooper killed the woman on-the-spot by firing several rounds of bullets on her. The memories of this incident will haunt me till I am alive,” said an eyewitness and survivor of the carnage who was watching this dastardly act from a distance.
Intriguingly, the state government in Jammu did not know about the developments in Sopore till 4 pm. It was only on account of some queries made by some press persons that the authorities began to make their own enquiries.
It took several days to the relatives of the victims in removing the charred bodies from the fire-ravaged structured including shops, houses and government buildings. Curfew restrictions in the town, inclement weather and police action on the protesting family members and close relatives of the victims, who were engaged in removing the charred bodies from the gutted areas, rendered the task of tracing the bodies of their kith and kin difficult.
Most of the charred bodies were mutilated beyond recognition. The close relatives who had also come from Bandipora, Pattan and Baramulla found it hard to identify the victims. “The only portion that had survived was the arm of my father; rest of the body was completely burnt. We could recognize his charred body with the help of the piece of jacket on his arm,” said the son of the deceased. In Srinagar, instant strike was observed in response to the indefinite bandh call given by JKLF supported by many other militant outfits.
The media persons who rushed to the spot the next day saw Kangris (fire pots) and belongings of the people scattered on the roads and streets of the town with blood splattered all over. Remains of the charred vehicles lay in the middle of the road as mute witness to the gory incident. A team of 300 doctors from SKIMS hospital, Soura who had went to relief operations were reportedly reluctantly allowed by the army and paramilitary forces inside the town. Defying curfew restrictions, about 5000 residents of Sopore and Baramulla took out processions. Police resorted to teargas shelling and cane charging to disperse the demonstrators injuring scores of people including women and children. Similar demonstrations were held in Srinagar, Pulwama and Budgam.
The state authorities put the toll at 40. While the official handout circulated to the media claimed that the fire broke out due to some explosive material dumped in the market hit by the gun fire, the then governor, Girish Chandra Saxena, while expressing grief over the loss of precious lives in a special broadcast on Radio Kashmir next evening had said that the 40 persons died in the backdrop of heavy exchange of fire between militants and security forces. The official handout further read that the ‘Operation Goodwill’ which had been initiated by Indian government to wean off the massive public support to the militants those days had met its fate acompli due to the horrendous incident.
Saxena, who had visited Spore a day after the incident along with other high rung officials, announced an exgratia payment of Rs one lakh to the next of kins of those killed in the tragedy and 50 per cent, subject to maximum loss of property to those rendered homeless. The state government also claimed to have suspended an inspector and two sub-inspectors of the BSF involved in the Sopore massacre.
Owing to the mounting pressure and widespread condemnation from various quarters, the state government ordered judicial probe by a sitting High Court judge into the incident. The director general of the BSF also ordered a parallel BSF staff inquiry into the incident under the BSF Act. The then Jamat-e-Islami leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, termed the probe as an “eyewash” and called for boycott of compensation and any government probe which received a tremendous positive response from the aggrieved families.
A Sopore Commission headed by Justice Chaudhary was set up by the state government to probe into the killings, gutting of the property, quantum of force used by the security personnel on the duty, fixing of responsibility and to suggest remedial measures to prevent the recurrence of such events. The commission, however, failed to prove its efficiency in the wake of laid-back attitude by the Justice Chaudhary and finally the Sopore probe panel drew blank. The case was later handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) but years later the subsequent investigations are still inconclusive.
Afzal Sofi, son of late Abdul Majid Sofi, 36, the one among those passengers killed by heavy firing on the SRTC bus on the fateful day, is still waiting for the punitive action against the guilty. Before leaving from the house for his duty in Baramulla, Abdul Majid, who was government employee at Handloom Corporation in Bandipora, had given few coins to his nine-year-old son for the candies.
Perplexed by the news of the incident, Afzal, now a youth in twenties, recalls how pall of gloom had descended on his family. “Our neighbours were trying effortlessly to pacify us, but to no avail. Suddenly one of our neighbours sitting on the roof of her house yelled, “Lo! There he comes.” On hearing this I immediately ran to the main gate to receive my father and spread my little arms around his affectionate shoulders. As I opened the door, I saw hoards of people carrying the dead body of my father to my utter shock. I was completely broken,” said Afzal as he was sobbing.
“Looking at the experiences of the fate of previous inquiries ordered by the government, we do not have any hopes that the justice would be done,” he added. (KASHMIR TIMES)
The local residents regard the incident as one of the worst massacres in the history of Kashmir.
I cannot forget that horrendous incident till I am alive; the troops were on rampage; I lost two relatives in the incident, said Ali Muhammad, an eyewitness and survivor of the carnage. I wonder can doomsday be worse,
The mayhem continued for more than two hours with peoplehelpless and hopelesswatching the devastation from a distance. None from the civil administration or Fire Service Department were allowed to the rescue of the hapless people. Only the valor and heroism of the local populace made its appearance, helping each other. In one hour, the locals recovered the dead bodies of more than 50 civilians and miraculously rescued many more.
“Some fifteen civilians who tired to rescue their brethren were also shot dead by the troopers”, said Abdul Majid, a survivor. Ghulam Nabi Bhat of New Light Hotel shouldered 11 dead bodies and before he could carry the 12th, he too was shot dead., he added.
Names of few slains::
* Abdul Majid Sofi, 35, S/o Muhammad Shafi R/o Krankshiwan
* Abdur Rashid War S/o Ghulam Muhammad War R/o Tujarsherief, Sopore
* Abdul Khaliq Malik S/o Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din R/o Arampora
* Abdul Ahad Kanjwal R/o Muslimpeer
* Abdul Ahad Shalla R/o Shallapora
* Abdur Rashid Sofi S/o Abdul Jabbar R/o Wanagam, Bandipora
* Abdul Ahad Liloo,70, S/o Baba Yousuf, Sopore
* Abdur Razaq Chalkoo S/o Ghulam Muhammad
* Bashir Ahmad Shalla S/o Ghulam Rasool R/o Shallapora, Sopore
* Farooq Ahmad Banday S/o Abdur Rashid R/o Sangrampora, Sopore
* Ghulam Nabi Zargar alias Shaheen S/o Qadir Joo R/o Badamibagh Sopore
* Ghulam Muhammad War S/o Muhammad Sultan R/o Tujarshrief
* Ghulam Nabi Bhat S/o Haji Abdullah R/o Sangrampora
* Gulzar Ahmad Sheikh S/o Muhammad Abdullah R/o Shahabad Sopore
* Ghulam Mohi-Ud-Din S/o Assadullah R/o Nathpora, Bandipora
* Ghulam Rasool Sofi S/o Muhammad. Sultan R/o Langate Handwara
* Ghulam Muhammad Khan S/o Bandipora
* Ghulam Muhammad Hajam S/o Abdul Gaffar R/o Mohallah Hajampora,
* Mohd Hussain R/o Tawheed gunj Baramulla
Our History of Kashmir has been filled with gut wrenching stories of Massacres. The Sopore Massacre is the worst act ever done against the Humanity. The Courts may have delayed and ultimately denied the Justice to the victims, the people giving shelter to the barbarians by outrightly denying any involvement but the wounds are still to be healed. The Kashmiris will never wake up from this inhumane nightmare, the screams and the cries are still heard in the Sky. Almighty is watching the oppressed and the helpless. For Justice and Freedom will arrive.