It took 22 years for the State Human Rights Commission to order a formal inquiry into Gawkadal massacre in which scores of harmless people were allegedly killed by government forces. Shah Abbas revisits the tragedy on its 23rd anniversary which marked the beginning of horrors for ordinary people of Kashmir valley.
A day after he was sent by New Delhi to bring the unprecedented situation that had erupted in Kashmir valley under control, Governor Jagmohan’s first ‘provocative’ address to the people on January 20, 1990, shocked everyone. In his address that was broadcast on TV and radio, he stated: “I have come as a nurse. I will not take any salary. I will just take Rs 1000 to meet my personal expenses. I have promised you a clean administration. But if anybody creates a law and order problem, meray haathon say aman ka patta khisak jaye ga (The card of peace I’m carrying will slip from my hands).”
That didn’t take long. Jagmohan’s statement was seen as a clear warning by the people of Kashmir and in less than 24 hours, Jagmohan ‘threw away the cards of peace’. During the intervening night of January 20 and 21, CRPF troops conducted widespread and ‘warrantless’ house-to-house searches in Chotta Bazaar, a congested locality in downtown Srinagar. Authorities claimed that the presence of several armed militants prompted the search operation.
However, none of over 400 persons who were dragged out of their homes into the biting cold of the night and arrested turned out to be a militant, neither was any weapon seized. It was during this search operation that allegations of molestations of women were made, something which had never happened before in the history of Kashmir conflict. And with this, the peace of Kashmir was shattered forever.
The news of the alleged molestation of women spread in Srinagar city as newspapers which had given a wide coverage of the nocturnal raids, arrests and alleged atrocities reached the people. ‘Chotta Bazar Aur Guru Bazar Mein Changezi Dour Ki Yadein Taza’, read the headline of Daily Alsafa News on January 21, 1990.
The daily reported that almost 1000 people were arrested, and women and children were dragged out of their beds during the night, resulting in chaos and tension in the area. The daily had quoted the locals alleging forces of molesting women under the garb of search operations.
While the New Year celebrations in India were muted this year to mourn the death of Delhi rape victim, who was gang-raped and brutally tortured leading to her death; a proper state homage to the innocent victim who lost her chastity and life in Delhi almost a month earlier, Kashmiris will be remembering the victims of Gaw Kadal massacre who were gunned down by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) 23 years back this week for protesting peacefully against the alleged molestation of women by the government forces in Chotta Bazar area of Srinagar.
“India is not ready to regard Kashmiri women as women; it has been proved from time to time. May it be Kunnan Poshpora or Shopian tragedies, Kashmiris have been denied justice on the state level from time to time,” said Khuram Parvez, organizer of Coalition Of Civil Society, a human rights group active in Jammu and Kashmir. Khurram’s maternal grandfather was among the victims of the Gawkadal Massacre.
For the last 23 years, successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir have failed to investigate the first major massacre which turned the situation of Kashmir altogether and to the extent that gun-wielding youth became heroes. Finally, after more than three decades, the victim families of the massacre are hoping that the facts about it would be unveiled.
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) ordered a probe in the 23-year-old shooting incident that killed over 50 Kashmiri civilians at the hands of government forces. A division bench of SHRC, comprising of Justice JA Kawoos and Justice Rafiq Fida, while hearing a petition of the Gaw Kadal massacre, ordered an inquiry to be conducted by the superintendent of police of the police investigation wing of the commission.
Two local human rights groups, International Forum for Justice (IFJ) and Human Rights Forum (HRF) on May 1, 2012, filed a petition before the SHRC seeking justice for the victim families. Later, the SHRC issued notices to the director general of police, J&K, union home secretary, state home secretary and inspector general of police, Kashmir, to submit their reports. —
“Since the petition, there were eight successive hearings where the state officials and the officials of the government of India failed to submit their responses,” human rights activist Ahsan Untoo said.
IFJ and HRF petition against the state had named Commissioner Secretary (Home), Director General of Police, J&K, SP, East Srinagar, SHO, Kralkhud, Alla Baksh, the then DSP Kothibagh and DIG, CRPF Kashmir Range as the parties. The petition submitted to SHRC stated that a peaceful demonstration was held throughout the valley against the atrocities committed by the CRPF in the different localities of the valley on Jan 21, 1990.
“One such procession was going on near Gawkadal Srinagar in which thousands of peaceful protestors were demanding that a stringent action may be taken against the CRPF and the mob was totally peaceful. When the procession reached near Gowkadal Chowk, the then DSP Kothibagh, Alla Baksh, along with his team which was lead by the CRPF personnel fired indiscriminately on the peaceful protestors in which 50 persons were killed on the spot and 250 got injured. The CRPF and police personals had deliberately fired on the peaceful protestors on the head and chest with the intention to kill. All these incidents were planned by the then DSP Alla Baksh, thereby creating the first incident of Human Rights violations,” the petition stated.
“Till date no investigation was conducted and the persons who were involved in the murder of 52 persons are roaming freely and one among them who is the main conspirator is the then DSP Alla Baksh who is roaming freely and the unfortunate part is that the said conspirator has been awarded promotions and doles,” it stated.
The petition asked the commission to take cognizance of the matter and constitute a team to conduct a full-fledged enquiry in the matter and direct the officials to furnish the detailed report regarding the status of the investigation in the case.
The petition filed by Ahsan Untoo concludes that in the premises ‘it is therefore prayed that the Commission may take cognizance of the matter and enquiry in the said killing may be conducted and the innocent persons killed in the same manner may be compensated. Also, an FIR may be lodged against the DSP Alla Baksh’.
On 26th December 2012, the Division Bench of SHRC ordered a special inquiry to be conducted by the SP of the Police Investigation Wing of the SHRC. One of the accused, in this case, Allah Baksh, recently expired and never faced any inquiry. The inquiry officer was asked to submit the report within two months and the next date of hearing is scheduled on 26th February 2013.
On January 21, 1990, as the word about nocturnal arrests and alleged molestation in Chotta Bazaar locality spread across Srinagar city, thousands of people came out on the streets to hold protests. Processions marched through almost every part of the city and a major one was reported from Rajbagh and Radio Colony localities in Srinagar. Eyewitnesses say the protesters defied the curfew and marched through the city. The protesters were on the way to Chotta Bazar. As the peaceful protesters reached Gawkadal, they were fired upon, resulting in the death of 50 persons and dozens of others were injured.
It has been 23 years now but the government has neither prosecuted any official involved in the massacre nor has any credible investigation been carried out into the case. Ironically, the police have filed an FIR at Kral Khud Police station under FIR No: 3/90 against the protestors who have been blamed for attacking the CRPF personnel. The death of only 22 persons has been recorded.
The absence of any investigation has resulted in ambiguity over the actual number of deaths which are believed to be between 22 to 60. The number of deaths would have surely gone up, had not one of the protestors, Rauf Ahmad, 21, taken 32 bullets fired from a machine gun on his chest, saving many lives.
“Rouf Ahmad, the unsung hero, saw a CRPF personnel turning the barrel of his machine gun towards the protesting women. Sensing the intentions of the CRPF personnel, Rouf went to him and successfully kept the barrel on his chest. The CRPF man tightly held the trigger of the gun till the magazine of his gun was empty,” said Mohamad Sadiq, who was among the protesters from Rajbagh.
Sadiq revealed that despite the curfew, the protestors were not stopped from Kursoo to Gawkadal where a large contingent of forces had been deployed. “Meanwhile, the protestors from various areas of Srinagar reached Maisuma and kept shouting slogans. As the protestors reached Gawkadal Bridge, the procession was intercepted by a party of J&K police and CRPF led by a Deputy Superintendent of Police rank officer,” he said.
Farooq Ahmad, a close friend of Rouf Ahmad, also saved a number of women from becoming the targets of CRPF personnel by standing in front of a CRPF man and taking ten bullets on his chest. “Gawkadal massacre witnessed the death of four friends, apart from Rouf and Farooq. Ali Mohammad Mir of Gonikhan, 65, and his close associate, Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh 70, also stood in front of the women who were about to be targetted by CRPF men. These two friends took more than 20 bullets each on their bodies,” Islamic Students League patron, Shakeel Ahmad Bakshi told Kashmir Life.
Bakshi claims he was near Gawkadal when the massacre took place and he was part of the locals who buried 21 bodies; 15 in Batamaloo and six in Sarai Bala graveyards. According to Bakshi, Gawkadal massacre was a message to the Kashmiri Pandit brethren that what was in the kitty of Jagmohan for Kashmiri Muslims. “It was a practical message for Pandits to leave the valley and it proved so because, from the other day, they started migrating,” said Bakshi.
The Gawkadal massacre left every Kashmiri in tears because they had never witnessed such kind of brutal bloodshed. “I saw a truck full of bodies at the police control room. I was there for a couple of days to fulfil my official assignment. I had finished my work at PCR early on Jan 21, but the situation did not allow me to move out. I was told that a police vehicle was going to south Kashmir which could take me to Kulgam where I was posted,” Ghulam Rasool, a retired assistant sub-inspector of J&K police told Kashmir Life.
“On seeing a truck full of bodies of innocent Muslim brethren, policemen started howling and crying, CRPF personnel were furious on the policemen as well and threatened them with dire consequences if they did not dispose off the bodies immediately. When policemen came close to the vehicle carrying bodies, at least three injured inside the vehicle were screaming that they were not dead and needed medical treatment. They were rushed to different hospitals. They had pretended to be dead to save themselves from being fired again,” he said.
“More bodies reached the PCR after a little time which were fished out of Jehlum river. Policemen were told that hundreds of protesters jumped into the river to save themselves from the bullets but the bullets of CRPF men chased them in the water too,” the retired ASI said.
Shakeel Bakshi still remembers the names of many protestors who were killed on that fateful day in 1990. “Bilal Ahmad Sofi and Nissar Ahmad Gurah of Sarai Bala, Mohammad Aslam Hajam of Kursoo, Shamim Amjad Najar of Sarai Payeen, Javed Ahmad Bangroo of Dana Mazar, Irfan Ahmad Butt, Mohammad Aslam of Shalimar, Mohammad Yousuf of Pulwama were the few among dead, I still remember that five of the deceased were buried in Mazar-e-Shuhada, Eid Gah and four in Om Pora, Budgam graveyard,” Bakshi said.
When the massacre happened, hundreds of women from Maisuma, Gawkadal, Basant Bagh and adjoining areas gathered to march towards Chotta Bazar locality. “I was not allowed to go to the SMHS where I needed to get my medical checkup. The security men directed me towards Lal Chowk. I started walking towards Lal Chowk, thinking of visiting any doctor in the area,” Zaina Begum, an old lady who witnessed the massacre, said.
“As the protesters reached near the Gawkadal bridge, one gunshot was heard first, which was immediately followed by indiscriminate firing. The fearful protesters scattered and the firing continued as the CRPF chased them through lanes. I was among some of the protesters who jumped into Jhelum river. Those who could not escape were shot on the spot. Not a single person was spared. I do not know what happened to me after I jumped or whether I was pushed in the river. But I remember that my husband was weeping when I opened my eyes. I was told later that policemen got me out of the water and saved my life,” the lady said.
In the aftermath of Gawkadal massacre, more demonstrations followed. In January 1990 alone, paramilitary forces are believed to have killed around 300 protesters. As Human Rights Watch stated in its May 1991 report: “In the weeks that followed the Gawakadal massacre, 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.”
The Gawkadal massacre proved to be a turning point in Kashmir’s history. Soon, the raging struggle of a few angry Kashmiris morphed into a popular uprising. Thousands of young men, braving snowclad mountains and bullets of Indian soldiers, crossed the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to get arms training.
MJ Akbar, the renowned journalist and the then editor of Asian Age, wrote about the Gawkadal massacre: “It became the catalyst which propelled into a mass upsurge. Young men from hundreds of homes crossed over into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to receive arms and training in insurrection, and Pakistan, for the first time, did not need to involve its regular troops in the confrontation. In Srinagar, each mosque became a citadel of fervour.” Fifteen years later, the J&K police closed the case and those involved in the massacre were declared ‘untraceable’. No challan has been produced against any person in court so far.
On May 1 2012, IFJ and HRF (J&K), the human rights groups, filed a petition with the State Human Rights Commission which issued notices to the Director General of Police J&K, Home Secretary – Union of India, and the Home Secretary, J&K and IGP Kashmir to submit their reports on the incident.
“Gawkadal massacre changed the mindset of the people of Kashmir towards India. In that protest, only 10,000 people participated. But it followed mass protests in which hundreds and thousands of people thronged the streets,” said Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights activist and co-founder of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. Khurram said the massacre “pushed people to join militancy and receive training.”
Gawkadal massacre left dozens of widows and orphans to face the worst kind of worldly situations. Farooq Ahmad, the brave friend of Rouf, who saved a number of protesters from being hit by bullets, had a daughter, Sultanat Farooq, who was unaware of what had befallen on her and her mother. Farooq’s widow took the challenge and struggled bravely for the sake of her daughter. Sultanat was only four when she lost her father. Renowned journalist, Zahir ud Din sums up his interaction with Sutnanat after the Gawkadal massacre in these words, “Saltant knew Johny had taken sugar and her Papa had taken him to task for that. She was aware that the Black Sheep had a bag of wool for the dame who lived down the lane. She also knew that Jack had gone up the hill with Jill. But she was not aware of the harsh reality that her Papa was no more.”
Sultanat is now a grown-up girl. She has eyes on the stars. Pursuing a career in computers, the brave daughter of a brave father plans to give a good life to her mother who faced a lot to ensure a better future for the lonely, living memory of her husband.
William Dalrymple, the acclaimed British writer and historian, has also written about the Gawkadal massacre. As a young journalist when he arrived in Srinagar on Jan 22 1990, a day after the massacre, Dalrymple says he went straight to the city hospital.
“Every bed in the building was occupied, and the overflow lined the corridors. One man, an educated and urbane city engineer named Farooq Ahmed, described how after the firing, the CRPF walked slowly forward across the bridge, finishing off those who were lying wounded on the ground. When the shooting began, Ahmed had fallen flat on his face and managed to escape completely unhurt,” Dalrymple writes in the New York Review of Books.
The Indian government banned foreign journalists from entering Kashmir after the international press carried reports about the Gawkadal massacre. When the ban was lifted in May 1990, Kashmir was soaked in blood by then as many more massacres of unarmed civilians had taken place across the valley. “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,” Dalrymple is reported to have said.
The relatives of those who were killed in the police action that day continue to await justice, Shabir Ahmad Dar was among those 50 people killed in the shooting. He left behind his wife and three children. His wife says no money can replace the father of her children.
Recently, the SHRC asked the concerned inquiry officer to submit its report within two months and it remains to be seen how justly the government will act. The rights groups and the victims’ families are now urging the SHRC to conduct the inquiry in a free and impartial manner. However, the success of this investigation will highly depend on the cooperation by the government so as to deliver justice to the victim families.
“We expect a free and impartial inquiry. We urge the government officials to cooperate in this fresh inquiry of Gawkadal massacre so that justice can be delivered to the family members of the victims and the culprits should be held accountable for their crime,” Ahsan Untoo said.
(Name of some people have been changed to protect their identity)