The year 1993 remains the ultimate annus horribilis for the Residents of Bijbehara, littered with a monumental event that left deep scars on their psyche. It was on 22nd day of October in that year when the Indian security forces mowed down at least fifty people and injured scores of that little village, in a killing spree that lasted for twenty minutes and the only fault of those killed was to dare protest the siege of their revered Shrine-Hazratbal.
22nd October was a Friday and the faithful numbering around ten to fifteen thousand, after finishing with the prayers, gathered in the court yard of the local Jamia Masjid to register their protest against the army siege of Hazratbal Shrine. A procession then started marching through various streets shouting slogans for lifting the siege and in support of Kashmir’s freedom. When the procession reached the main road (Srinagar-Jammu National Highway) that divides the town, they faced a large contingent of the Border Security Force. As the whole procession reached on top of the road in the Gooriwan locality, Bijbehara, the BSF personnel closed in on the protestors from three sides and started to fire indiscriminately on them, killing at least 37 people on the spot and injuring more than 200 others. The firing continued for nearly twenty minutes with the troops targeting the crowd and those who lay injured on the ground, in fact any one who showed any visible movement or signs of life.
When people from outside the procession tried to rescue those who were injured, they too were targeted including medical and paramedical staff. No ambulances or medical staff was allowed access to those who were lying on the ground, even though the hospital was only yards away from the massacre site. According to the local doctors in the hospital on that day, most of the people could have been saved had the ambulances and medical aid been allowed to reach the victims. Later, when people did manage to take some of the injured away into the hospital, the BSF personnel even fired at them inside the hospital complex, killing and injuring more people. One such example is of a young man in his early twenties, Muhammad Shafi Wagay, whose house was only a few yards away from the massacre site. His brother Abdur Rashid was seriously injured and somehow Muhammad Shafi managed to take him to the hospital, but as he did, the BSF fired at him killing him on the spot in the hospital grounds. As luck would have it, his injured brother survived the carnage, after spending about a month in the hospital.
The so-called security forces did not stop there. A local resident, Farooq Ahmad Bhat, working on behalf of a Kashmir-based human rights monitoring group, had collected valuable details about the massacre. After he braved many threats from the security forces to desist , he was finally picked up from his shop on Ist December 2003 by troops from Ist Rashtriya Rifles in full public view and made to disappear. His whereabouts are not known till date. This incident happened more than ten years after the original massacre which amply demonstrates the scornful & vindictive mindset of security forces.
The Indian government conducted two official enquiries and the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) conducted a third. In March 1994 the government indicted the Border Security Force (BSF) for firing into the crowd "without provocation" and charged 13 BSF officers with murder. A nonpublic General Security Force Court trial conducted in 1996 led to their acquittal.
When the NHRC sought to examine the transcripts of the trials in order to satisfy itself that the BSF had made a genuine attempt to secure convictions, the Vajpayee government refused. Even after taking the matter to Supreme Court, the Indian government’s refusal on the ground that records could not be made available for reasons of national security. NHRC withdrew the case from Supreme Court in September 2000 without ensuring justice to the people who lost their kiths and kins in the incident. On September 10, 2007 the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ordered the state government to pay compensation to the victims’ families
Since 1947, the actions of Indian security forces in Kashmir has been and remains an insidious calamity of the worst order for its people. Their behavior in Kashmir has been systematically brutal & so barbaric that it reminds one of the Allama Iqbal’s couplet
“Sikander wa Changiz kay Hatoon jehan Mein, Saw bar hoyie hay Hazarat insane ki qaba chak
Tariki umum ka payam azli hay, Sahib nazran nasha quwat hay Khatarnak”
(Loosely translated it means-Alenxandera & Chengis demolished humanity hundred times-But the historical truth is that reliance on brute power is a dangerous proposition)
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Feed back at firstname.lastname@example.org)