Street Full Of Blood
October 22 occupies a prominent place in Kashmir’s history. Siege of the holiest Muslim shrine by Indian army in the Kashmir Valley reignited anger at India. On this day, more than 40 unarmed civilians were mowed down by Indian forces in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town. They were part of a protest demonstration against the siege of holy place Hazratbal shrine by Indian army. The gruesome incident occurred, when the BSF troopers resorted to indiscriminate firing on the people protesting peacefully against the siege of Hazratbal shrine.
The survivors even after two decades of the massacre, afraid to recall the gory scene as they say it was no less than a dooms day.
It had been a week since the Dargah Hazratbal was placed under siege by the army on October 15, 1993 to flush out a group of JKLF militants, who had taken shelter inside the shrine complex. The siege caused widespread anger across Kashmir which would find expression in the form of protest demonstrations.
On October 22, after Friday prayers, around 15,000 people gathered in the court yard of the local Jamia Masjid Bijbehara to register their protest against the siege. The protesters marched through the streets shouting pro-independence slogans, demanding an end to the Hazratbal siege and demonstrating against an earlier incident of firing on protesters near the Hazratbal shrine.
When the procession reached the main road of bijbehara town that divides the town, they were confronted by a large contingent of the Border Security Force (BSF). As the whole procession reached on top of the road in the Gooriwan locality, the BSF allegedly blocked the street and started firing indiscriminately, killing dozens of people on the spot and injuring more than 200 others. The firing continued for nearly ten minutes with the troops targeting the crowd directly. When people from nearby locality tried to rescue those who were injured, they too were targeted. No ambulances or medical staffs were allowed access to those who were lying on the ground, even though the hospital was only yards away from the massacre site.
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. The dead included a Hindu Pandit boy who had joined the protesters on way. The most heart-rending part of the incident was that the local residents had to bury 25 students in the same park in which they used to play. Families were devastated after the killing of their beloved ones.
Eyewitness to the incident recalled: “The people had gathered on the National Highway in Bijbehara town. There were thousands of people raising their voice on siege and shouting pro freedom slogans. They said it was peaceful, without any warning military forces opened fire on throng. It was terrible. There were so many people lying on the ground. Others were running in panic and shouting for help. Within no time the road was filled with blood, it was terrible to see that movement”.
After the massacre “Many innocent dead were labelled as militants. Even an 11 year old boy was termed as an armed militant,” they said.
Soon after the massacre, the official version claimed that BSF personnel fired in self-defense as a group of armed militants who according to official version were part of the procession, a claim refuted by the eyewitnesses and the Human Rights Organizations. A local news outlet reported that soon after news of the massacre went out, the Indian government barred independent local and international media from entering the town. On October 23, 1993, when a large number of local and foreign media people converged on the town, the army used violence and fired into the air to stop them from visiting the old side of the town.
The Indian government conducted two official inquiries 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. The General Security Force Court had conducted a non-public trial which acquitted the accused men. The NHRC attempted to review the court files, but was refused access.
When the NHRC sought to examine, in order to satisfy itself that the BSF had made a genuine attempt to secure convictions, BJP 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 loved ones in incident. On September 10, 2007 the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ordered the state government to pay compensation to the victims’ families.
“Kashmir will be free Insha Allah”.