Twenty-one years have expired and the Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) personnel from 74th Battalion allegedly responsible for murdering scores of innocent and peaceful protesters in Bijbehara town of South Kashmir’s Islamabad district have not been brought to book and the ‘killers’ are still roaming free. Locals lament that justice has been eluding the families of the victims.
Amnesty International reported that at least 51 people died and 200 were wounded on 22 October 1993, while the UN Refugee Agency quoting Indian newspapers reported 35 persons were killed and about 76 wounded. Locals put the toll to 51 including 25 students. According to eyewitnesses, among the injured many were handicapped for life.
“Some militants who in common parlance those days were known as ‘Mujhadeen’ were holed up in Srinagar’s Hazratbal shrine while Indian troopers had laid a siege of the shrine to apprehend those militants,” an eyewitness told CNS adding that against this ‘siege’ October 22, 1993, hundreds of people mostly students soon after Friday Congregational prayers assembled in Bijbehara and started peaceful protest against this ‘siege’.
“All but 15000 people assembled in the courtyard of Jamia Masjid Bijbehara, and a procession was taken out, which marched through various streets. As the peaceful march reached near Goriwan locality, BSF personnel blocked the road and did not allow the protesters to proceed ahead. As the anti-India slogans reverberated in the air, the BSF men present there fired indiscriminately on the unarmed protesters, killing at least 40 persons on spot and injuring more than 200 others,” the eyewitness said.
Another local who at that time was just 17 said that BSF personnel resorted to indiscriminate firing for more than 10 minutes and they targeted the protesters directly. He said that those people were also targeted and shot at who had come forward to carry the dead and injured. “The unbridled BSF personnel seemed to drunk with pride and power and they wasted no time to target everyone who came in their way,” he said adding that the height of repression was that no ambulances or medical staff was allowed access to the injured persons and were forcibly stopped by the ‘killers’.
The locals said that among the dead was a Kashmiri Pandit boy whose mother died soon after unable to bear the shock of losing her only son at the hands of BSF personnel.
The International news reports that appeared soon after the massacre quoted doctors as saying that most of the people could have been saved had the ambulances and medical aid been allowed to reach the victims.
Recounting their horror, the witnesses who survived this massacre said that the BSF men even directly fired upon those who had managed to shift some of the injured to nearby hospital. “It was doomsday for the people. The families who lost their loved ones shattered while some of them went into depression. BSF men from 74th Battalion did not spare an 11 year old boy and killed him mercilessly in the middle of the road when he tried to move to a safer place,” the eyewitnesses told CNS.
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. The eyewitnesses while accusing Indian Media said few media houses gave prominent space to the official version of the massacre and left no stone-unturned to twist the facts. “Many innocent dead were labeled as militants. Even an 11 year old boy was termed as an armed militant,” they said.
Police later on registered an FIR vide number 90/1993 under section 302 and 307 RPC without making any arrests. “On the very next day of the massacre, when large number of local and foreign journalists converged on the town, the army allegedly used violence and shot in air to stop them from visiting the site and the newly dug ‘martyrs graveyard’, the locals of Bijbehara alleged.
On November 13 in the next month in 1993, Inquiry Magistrate submitted an inquiry report vide number EN/BFC/93/23-24, and concluded that firing on the procession was absolutely unprovoked and the claim made by the Indian troopers that they fired in self defence after militant firing is baseless and concocted.
The inquiry report further stated that the security personnel have committed offence out of vengeance and their barbarous act was deliberate and well planned. The report indicted Deputy Commandant of BSF JK Radola for tacit approval given by him to indiscriminate and un-provoked firing. Despite the magisterial inquiry establishing the firing to be unprovoked and barbarous, justice has been eluding the families of the victims from past 21 years.
Government of India conducted two official enquiries 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. A non public General Security Force Court trial conducted in 1996, however led to their acquittal. When the NHRC sought to examine the transcripts of the trials in order to satisfy itself that the BSF had made a genuine attempt to secure convictions, then Vajpayee led Indian government refused. The NHRC then moved the Supreme Court for a review. The Indian government conducted two official enquiries 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. A nonpublic General Security Force Court trial conducted in 1996 led to their acquittal.
When the NHRC sought to examine the transcripts of the trials in order to satisfy itself that the BSF had made a genuine attempt to secure convictions, the Vajpayee government refused. The NHRC then moved the Supreme Court for a review. In September 2000, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.
On September 10, 2007 the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ordered the state government to pay compensation to the victims’ families. People who survived while recounting the nightmare says the pain still lingers in their hearts and the horror still haunts them.