Posts Tagged ‘Bandipore’

By Izhar Nazir Ali, Kashmir reader

Published: Sun, 06 January 2013

 

Pattan: It was a chilly January morning. Flakes of snow had just started descending from the overcast sky. Like every day, Ali Mohammad, then 52, moved his coach to ferry passengers. By the time the bus reached near Sopore town, and Mohammad lifted his foot from the accelerator, it had turned into a mobile mortuary. Glass pieces spread over the floor, seats drenched in blood, bodies piled up. Fifteen dead and many injured. Mohammad was the only survivor in the ill-fated bus as the tragic day in the bloody history of Kashmir came to be known as the Sopore massacre of January 6, 1993. At least 45 unarmed civilians were killed in cold blood—many reports put the toll at 54—and about 350 shops set ablaze by paramilitary BSF men to avenge the killing of two of their colleagues by militants earlier in the day.
Twenty years after the event, Mohammad says the “carnage will haunt me till death. Many years have passed but I can still hear the screams of innocent people. I remember the face of a former bus conductor who was talking to me before he was shot dead. I can’t forget another youth who was gunned down outside the cinema when he ran for his life. I can’t forget how people entered the shops to save their lives but were charred alive,” 72-year-old Mohammad told Kashmir Reader at his modest single storey house in north Kashmir’s Pattan town.
Narrating the events of the day that saw Valley exploding with anger, Mohammad, who was then a driver with government-run State Road Transport Corporation, said: “Around 11 am that day, as usual I moved the coach (JKY/1901) from bus stand to Bandipore district. With dozens of passengers onboard, I had to abruptly stop the vehicle on reaching the town square. The people were running. No one knew what was going on. In the meantime, a BSF party carrying an injured trooper passed by.”
“Boondh daalo saalon ko (kill all these…),” the officer leading the party, Mohammad said, ordered his men. “We were silently watching troopers firing in all directions. Suddenly karakulli cap of my friend Abdur Rashid, the former conductor, fell down. I bowed to pick it up. In the meantime, a bullet smashed the front window of the bus. I got up and saw Rashid dead. Within seconds, two BSF men boarded the bus from the front and the rear doors and started firing indiscriminately at the passengers. The cries for mercy and screams of the civilians went unheard in the bursts of gunfire.”
As the guns were booming, Mohammad says, he quickly jumped out from the driver’s door and crawled to take shelter in the nearby Samad Talkies, an erstwhile cinema. Outside, he said, two BSF men were firing on the civilians “as if the victims were flies.”
“A young boy ran in front of me. He too was shot dead by the troopers. I don’t know how I survived. I don’t know why BSF men didn’t notice me while I was running towards the cinema.”
Mohammad’s belief that the cinema was a safe place was proven wrong. “Scores of men, women and children who had taken refuge inside the hall were crying for help after the cinema was set on fire by the troopers. The flames dashed hopes of our survival. We just gave up. We thought our end was near. Suddenly, I noticed there was a window in the rear that led to a graveyard. We smashed the window and ran to save our lives.”
When the dust settled, Mohammad says he revisited the spot in the evening to retrieve his vehicle. “When I boarded the bus, I saw glass spread all over. Blood drenched seats. It was a horrible scene. I just fled away leaving the vehicle there.”
After the massacre, Mohammad says, he boarded a Srinagar-bound bus that was coming from the frontier Kupwara district. On reaching near Sopore bridge, the BSF men, he says dragged the passengers from bus and thrashed them savagely.
“They didn’t spare anyone. They thrashed men, women and children with batons and rifle butts. They were angry over the death of their colleague. However, for them the slaughter of 54 civilians didn’t matter at all,” he adds.
Back home, Mohammad’s village was in mourning as news had spread about his death in the massacre. “My name had figured in the list of martyrs. My colleagues and officials had thought I was dead. They even visited my house to offer condolences to my family,” he says.
“Incidentally, a man had died in my village. My colleagues and officials came and offered prayers at his grave presuming it to be mine,” he adds with a smile.
Mohammad says the events of January 6,’93 left an “indelible mark on my heart and mind.”
“Since then, I haven’t visited Sopore. I don’t drive anymore. I shouldn’t be alive. I survived thrice on that day. Some divine help saved me from the clutches of death,” he add

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Muzamil Jaleel : Srinagar, Sun Aug 21 2011

For the first time in Jammu and Kashmir, an official inquiry has said that it is “beyond doubt” that there are scores of unidentified bodies in unmarked graves in the Valley — as many as 2156 bodies buried at 38 sites since militancy began in 1990.

All these bodies, according to an inquiry by the investigative wing of the J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), were handed over by the police to the local population for burial with bullet injuries and were classified as “unidentified militants.” Strongly contesting this in the absence of any profiling done by the police, the probe has called for a thorough investigation across the state, FIRs, exhumation and prompt DNA profiling of the bodies and comparison of samples with those taken from residents who have been campaigning against the disappearance of their relatives.

It quotes former British Prime Minister William Gladstone to make a telling point: “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness, the tender mercy of its people, their respect for the law of the land and their loyalty to high ideals”.

The report says that of the bodies, a few were defaced, 20 were charred, five only have skulls remaining and there are at least 18 graves with more than one body each.

This startling conclusion comes after a three-year-long inquiry by an 11-member team led by Bashir Ahmad Yatoo, the Senior Superintendent of Police of the investigative wing of the J&K SHRC.

The team scoured police records to count the number of “unidentified bodies” sent for burial, cross-checked this against testimonies from police officials, eyewitnesses, village committees, village heads, elders, mosque committees, gravediggers and records prepared by caretakers of the graveyards. Many witnesses spoke on the condition that they not be named — the testimonies of 62 who didn’t seek anonymity have been made part of the report.

There were 21 unmarked graves in Baramulla, three each in Bandipore and Handwara and 11 in Kupwara. The probe said it established 851 unidentified bodies in Baramulla, 14 in Bandipore, 14 in Handwara and 1277 in Kupwara.

The report of the investigation, obtained by The Sunday Express and handed over to the SHRC last month.

“It is beyond doubt that unmarked graves containing unidentified dead bodies do exist at various places in north Kashmir. The local police while handing over the unidentified dead bodies to locals for burial, was claiming them to be the dead bodies of unidentified militants but later on, out of 2730 unidentified dead bodies, 574 were identified as the dead bodies of locals by their next of kin at these 38 places visited by the investigating team,” says the report.

In fact, the SHRC investigation was the response to a campaign by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) which in March, 2008, released a report, “Facts Underground” and alleged the presence of unmarked graves. The next month, the SHRC issued notices to then Congress-PDP government and set up the probe committee. In December 2009, another human rights group, the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights, released a report claiming that unmarked graveyards “entomb bodies of those murdered in encounter, fake encounters and extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions.”

The SHRC team included Inspectors Mohammad Yousuf, Baghwant Singh, Ashiq Hussain and Veer Singh; Sub Inspector Khalid Mehraj, Assistant Sub Inspector Farooq Ahmad, Head Constables Ghulam Mohammad and Aijaz Ahmad besides Special Grade Constables Ghulam Qadir and Nazir Ahmad.

“The scope of DNA extraction from remains of these unidentified bodies buried in unmarked graves of north Kashmir is still very bright. As the time will go on to elapse, chances will be more and more reduced,” the report says. “Thus the Commission should pass an order with directions to do the needful as soon as possible so that the identity of the disappeared persons and those unidentified bodies buried in nameless graves may be established or negated. The DNA sampling techniques can be supplemented by other techniques like dental examination, distinctive medical characteristics, finger prints and physical description etc”.

The report also suggests that “to stop the misuse of powers under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and Disturbed Areas Act,” it is necessary that wherever anybody is killed — whether he is a militant or an innocent civilian — his or her identification profile including DNA profile should be maintained properly.”