The Gaw Kadal Massacre qualifies as the first of the big slaughter of civilians in Kashmir by the Indian paramilitary force, the CRPF. It took place on the morning of January 21, 1990. The Indian authorities put the official death toll in the massacre at 28 while international human rights organisations and scholars estimate that at least 52 were killed. Other estimates suggest the death toll was several times more, with some killed by gunshot wounds, others by drowning after they jumped into the river in fear.

It all started with the appointment of Jagmohan, widely perceived to be a communal and scheming person, as governor of Jammu and Kashmir by New-Delhi. Farooq Abdullah resigned as chief minister in protest against his appointment as he considered him to be the person responsible for his unconstitutional dismissal six years before.

On January 20, 1990, Jagmohan’s first address as governor stunned everybody. It was provocative. He said: “I promise you a clean administration. But if anybody creates a law and order problem, mere haathon se aman ka patta khisak jayega (the cards of peace I’m carrying will slip away from my hands).” It was a clear warning to the people of Kashmir. And in less than 24 hours, the threat was carried out.

It was January 21, 1990. The whole city was under curfew, massive search operations were going on in the Srinagar city by security forces without any warrants or authorizations. Many women had been molested and arrest of nearly 400 hundred people sent shockwaves through Srinagar. Shocking news spread all over like wild fire. Young and old came out on streets to register their protest.

In the meantime the peaceful protestors mostly from Soiteng, Jawahar Nagar, Raj Bagh and other areas of Srinagar had reached Maisuma, shouting slogans. As the protestors reached the Gaw Kadal Bridge, the procession was intercepted by a party of the CRPF led by a notorious Deputy Superintendent of Police, Allah Baksh. The government forces opened fire without any provocation. Fearful protestors scattered everywhere, making their way through the lanes, while the CPRF men were chasing them. Those who could not escape were shot, not sparing a single man alive.

“I had walked amidst the women, thinking that the police would not fire on them. But the CRPF men did not spare them either. Those who were just injured were again shot in the head by the CRPF personnel to make sure they had killed them,” recollects Farooq Ahmad a survivor of the mayhem.

Political analysts and human rights activists here see the incident as a turning point in the history of Kashmir, and define the killings as the primary catalyst for the mass militant movement. As Human Rights Watch said in a May 1991 report, “In the weeks that followed, as security forces fired on crowds of marchers and as militants intensified their attacks against the police and those suspected of aiding them, Kashmir’s civil war began in earnest.” According to Khurram Parvez, an award-winning Kashmiri human rights activist and co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, the Gaw Kadal Massacre changed the mindset of the people of Kashmir towards India and pushed people to join militancy and receive training. Incidentally, Khurram’s maternal grandfather was also killed in the violence that day.

Khurram also recalls how as a young boy he would daily see Allah Baksh – who was by now mockingly called as General Dyer – as his next door neighbor and crave to take revenge. As he grew up, however, he says, he realized that the greatest revenge would be fighting for justice. It is probably this realization that made Khurram an internationally acknowledged human rights activist. (Allah Baksh died recently.)

After the international press published the details of the massacre at Gaw Kadal, all foreign correspondents were banned from Kashmir for several months. Recalls writer and historian William Dalrymple, “When we were allowed to return in May, it quickly became clear that the brutality of the security forces had comprehensively radicalized the normally apolitical Kashmiris and turned a small-scale insurgency into a genuine popular movement.”

This incident also witnessed the collapse of the entire administration of the state. The courts at the district and the sub-divisional levels ceased to function. Postal, banking and insurance services were completely paralyzed. Social and welfare activities, including the Red Cross, were wound up. 1990 was also the first year when the head of the state failed to hoist the national flag on India’s Republic Day. It was a period when the Indian state exposed not only its ugliest face but also its most helpless form.

No known action was ever taken against the CRPF forces or their officers responsible for the massacre – or against the officers present at Gaw Kadal that night. No government investigation was ever ordered into the incident. Fifteen years later, the police case was closed and those involved in the massacre were declared untraceable. No challan has been produced against any person in court. It is only very recently that the State Human Rights Commission, after untiring efforts by a human rights organization headed by Mr. Ahsan Untoo, has ordered reinvestigation into the case so that the culprits could be brought to justice.

The author is a practicing Chartered at