Within 24 hours after Kashmir acceded to India in 1947, the Srinagar airport was not only the epicentre of the first war that India and Pakistan fought over the Vale but a stage for Kashmir’s first cordon and a massacre. Bilal Handoo traces the survivors of Kashmir first post-partition massacre to tell the story of dusky Gogo hamlet, that was obliterated from history
He remembers everything as if that dark horror shook him only yesterday…
Dusk had barely taken over when soldiers knocked at their doors, asking them to come out and have a word with them. Some 300 of them stepped out and pooled inside a village ground. The next thing he recalls was the loud shout: “Stand up in one line!” The blank-minded men, women and children hurriedly followed the order. And then, he saw them exchanging an evil grin, before training guns at the fear-stricken villagers.
Next time when Mohammad Sidiq Malik opened his eyes, he was in Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, battling a life-threatening injury. A bullet had bored a big hole on his right upper thigh. He had bled profusely on way to city hospital, then a far distance from his village located outside the ramshackle airport that Maharaja Hari Singh had set up for his silver-plated aircraft. The hospital stay lasted for two months before he stepped back into his village to glimpse the pervasive devastation.
“Not many people were around,” says Sidiq, as he gingerly recalls his nightmare. “Ten villagers were shot dead, including Qadir Lone, Mahad Lone, Rasool Lone, Abdullah Lone, Razzaq Bhat, Ismail Ganaie, Qadir Ganaie, Malla Ahmud and two women.” The villagers had lost the count of injured, forcing them to flee.
That bloodshed took place in Gogo, a garrisoned village bordering Srinagar Airport, the day Delhi flew its army to Srinagar, minutes after Hari Singh’s accession request was acceded to, on October 27, 1947. Almost 68 years later, the carnage might be a lost chapter of Kashmir’s chequered history, but men like Sidiq are still alive to recount the horror of the murderous assault, making it the first organized killings in Kashmir and the first ever cordon-and-search operation.
Now senile and sluggish, these men are mainly confined to four walls, spending their days in praying and watching their grandsons to till farms, turned crimson once the ‘democracy’ took over valley.
But before the gory theatre was staged in Gogo, Dakotas ferrying Sikh regiment were hovering over the skies of Srinagar. Their arrival had convinced people that war was inevitable. The brunt was brutal in Gogo as the village was at a walking distance from the tarmac.
It was under this tense situation, a teenager Ghulam Mohammad Malik returned Gogo riding on his horse.
Malik was returning from Beerwah in Budgam, where he had seen tribals evoking great public passion. “But there was no trace of tribals anywhere closer to Gogo or in neighbouring villages,” says Malik, then 15, now 83. All he saw was panic, making everyone restive in wake of an impending confrontation.
Later that day, the only Pandit couple living in Gogo, Prem Nath and Amrawati, turned up at Malik’s home. The couple asked him to lend them his horse for ferrying their belongings out of the village. “Everybody was leaving the village for their safety, so was that Pandit couple,” recalls Malik, as his grandsons huddle inside his newly constructed house in Gogo. “But, I told them, very politely, ‘I don’t have any horse available right now. Come tomorrow. I will surely give you one.’ But they left in a vengeful huff, making me believe that they are upto something.”
Prem Nath, he says, shortly walked onto the tarmac strewn with Sikh regiment. “He bitched about us and told army to teach ‘the traitors’ a lesson,” says Malik, who learned about the ‘Pandit part’ in the pogrom from his father and village elders.
Malik saw them hidden behind bushes, waiting in ambush, like predators. By the morning of October 28, the same predator-prey hunt devoured Gogo village head, Qadir Lone.
But moments before the army regiment could come and unleash mayhem in Gogo, Malik was sent away to neighbouring village by his relative. Later, as the gunshots rang relentlessly, the young Malik grew restive, sniffing the trouble at home. By the dusk, the deadly secret was out. He heard people crying, “Gogowekh ha merekh!” (People of Gogo have been killed!)
He rushed to his village and saw the village vibrancy turned into desolation. Near home, he saw his mother, pleading some villagers to take her to some safe place. He hugged her, only to comfort her, before walking away, ‘crying their hearts out’.
Once shifted to safe zones, the villagers began counting their dead and wounded. Malik learned that among the dead was his father-in-law, Mohi-ud-din Lone. But there was no chance of return to retrieve his body, as soldiers were still stationed in Gogo. Malik saw them hidden behind bushes, waiting in ambush, like predators. By the morning of October 28, the same predator-prey hunt devoured Gogo village head, Qadir Lone.
Qadir had somehow survived the evening slaughter of October 27, fleeing under the cover of darkness. But his brother and Malik’s father-in-law, Mohi-ud-din Lone had sustained a bullet injury on his leg and was still trapped in the village. The injured Lone had hidden himself in a house, while his brother Qadir had run along with others to Bagwanpora. By the crack of subsequent dawn, Qadir left to rescue his injured brother. He somehow sneaked into the Gogo without giving a whiff of his whereabouts to the vigilant soldiers. “Once they (Lone bothers) reached near the village shrine of Baba Jamaal-ud-din,” says Qadir Jr, grandson of slain Qadir Lone, “the brothers were shot dead.”
Fifteen days later, when some villagers returned to gauge the village mood, they saw bullet-holed besides blood-drenched clothes of the slain Lone brothers left abandoned near the shrine. “The sight evoked a fresh but silent mourning in the village,” says Qadir’s grandson. Even mourning was fatal in Goga, then, reduced to a mortuary, the survivors recall.
Abdullah took out Rs 500 from his pocket and handed over them to Kumar, saying, ‘Take care of the dead and their family’, and left the spot in a huff.”
Interestingly, it was all happening at a time when the state was passing through a historic transition. Two days before, in the midnight, the last monarch Hari Singh had fled Srinagar in a long convoy of 85-vehicles, driving home the fleece that his family had collected in around a century of loot, and plunder. He was fleeing from tribals, who had taken over part of his estate, forcing him to seek help from Delhi and sign a conditional accession. A day later Delhi flew its troops to Srinagar.
As Srinagar Airport became an apparent war-turf, the villages from Gogo to Barzulla turned into ghost lanes. “The invading army in buses would fire indiscriminately at everyone, anyone,” says Haji Ahmadullah Dar, the brother of Haji Habibullah Dar, the man who rested the slain of Gogo ‘in peace’ amid tension at Barzulla.
But before taken to Barzulla, the angry relatives of the martyrs had confronted Sheikh Abdullah, then the defacto master of Kashmir. One among them was a barber from Chak Rawalpora, Abdul Aziz Kumar.
While taking the dead bodies to Srinagar in a procession, Kumar saw Sheikh stepping out of his vehicle somewhere between Barzulla and Rangreth. The annoyed Kumar shouted at Abdullah while pointing towards the corpses, “Babba, ame khetri banieoukha czi sown leader?” (Abdullah, is this why you became our leader?)
Abdullah couldn’t withstand the emotive charge and slapped Kumar hard on his face, remembers Malik, whose relatives were also part of the funeral procession. “Later sensing the gravity of situation, Abdullah took out Rs 500 from his pocket and handed over them to Kumar, saying, ‘Take care of the dead and their family’, and left the spot in a huff.”
But perhaps, Abdullah realised, that it was no storm in a teacup. He needed his ‘trusted lieutenant’ and ‘crisis manager’, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad to thwart the crisis at the cusp of his coronation. Known for his managerial skills, Bakhshi confronted, pacified the procession before they could reach Srinagar with corpses. It was Bakhshi’s timely intervention that averted an inflammable demonstration rocked with anti-army slogans, which could have flipped the history.
Later, four of the total ten corpses were taken to a desolated Barzulla spot, where a staunch opponent of Abdullah and former Muslim Conference member, Haji Habibullah Dar, was a lone man taking care of his house. Once he learned about the dead, he arranged their shroud before laying them to rest in Barzulla’s Parre graveyard.
Seven decades later, the epitaphs of these graves stand buried under the soil and soot of the hushed cemetery. While the four were buried here, the rest, says Sidiq Malik, the survivor of the 1947 Gogo bloodshed, were laid to rest in the village itself, days after his village was de-militarized.
But with army’s departure and the villagers’ arrival, a cycle of suffering started in Gogo. The village was not the same again when the villagers returned. Everything was charred down, except three houses. “Army had set afire the entire village to clear all the evidences,” says Sidiq, the octogenarian man who saw it all, but now, a partially blind man. “They had also looted our belongings, cattle, and even, our hens.”
And then to their dismay, the winter arrived, immediately after their return. For the next one year, the villagers took shelter inside the gutted walls, covering with thatched roofs. The makeshift sheltering ended by summer 1948 when Gogo became a mass rebuilding spot. That season, the villagers suspended farming to rebuild their homes. And then came the surprise.
“The pandit family responsible for our suffering too came back,” Sidiq says, “but not a single villager ever confronted them for dooming our lives. They lived happily in Gogo before their progeny migrated to Jammu in 1990, selling their entire village property.” But even today, the sufferings inflicted by army’s murderous assault could never migrate from Gogo.
Interestingly, this massacre has skipped the contemporary historians. The first organized killings, which the history books have mentioned was of November 5, 1947 when 11 bodies of Sheikh Abdullah’s Peace Brigade members were recovered from the trenches in Rambagh.
These trenches dug by the soldiers to defend the city from tribals were later scanned by angry locals who took away the bodies in a procession. This was the second such instance and had the potential of triggering a larger crisis. While Bakhshi left for the old city to manage the situation, Ghulam Mohiuddin Karra and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, somehow, took control of the 11 bodies and buried them in Dalgate post-haste.
While the Emergency Government announced investigation in the killings, nobody knew what happened. Lt Gen LP Sen, in his book Slender Was The Thread, however, claims these were NC workers who were shot dead by the soldiers when they were on their way home from Budgam. “The biggest mistake that our soldiers committed was that they buried the bodies in the trenches and did not inform the brigade headquarters,” he has written, insisting only two civilians were killed.
Amid these onslaughts, Gogo continued to suffer silently, for being closer to tarmac. Later when Indo-Pak wars broke out in 1965 and ’71, desolation took over the village, again. Once they came out of those deep trenches dug deep on their farmlands to save themselves from becoming war casualties, their world was again turned topsy-turvy.
When we were made to stand in a line on the evening of October 27, 1947, I tried to appease our killers by offering them three pears from my pocket. In return they pumped a bullet into my hand. And since then, the poor thing keeps shaking!
One fine day when they went to till their farms, the army shoo them away. “They had occupied it against our wishes,” says Abdul Rehman, a village elder. “Later to justify their wrong, they gave us Rs 1300 per kanal of land they occupied, as compensation.” It was after a long exhaustive court battle that forced army to pay them Rs 2600 per kanal. Even that amount couldn’t repay the losses army inflicted upon villagers, Rehman says.
By the time pendulum shifted and guns rattled, a dreaded Gogoland dotted Gogo’s picturesque landscape. Being the erstwhile notorious torture centre akin to Papa 1, Papa 2, Cargo, Hariniwas and Bag-e-Mehtab, the BSF camp over massive swathes of land still makes the village look like a garrison. And those poor villagers keep shuddering to narrate the harrowing stories scripted inside it.
Brutalities might have mellowed down now, but all these years, certain impressions of the ‘first blood’ have never faded, like the curious case of a now demised village teacher.
Years after the 1947 savagery, Ghulam Mohiddin Khan, a village teacher was asked by his students, “Masterji, what is wrong with your right hand? Why it always keeps shaking?” The teacher smiled before replying, “Nothing. It is just an old injury.” The students stood firm, “What old injury?”
Then, the teacher let out the painful secret, “When we were made to stand in a line on the evening of October 27, 1947, I tried to appease our killers by offering them three pears from my pocket. In return they pumped a bullet into my hand. And since then, the poor thing keeps shaking!”