An eyewitness of the infamous “Jan 6 Sopore massacre”, Abdul Hamid Bhat, narrates the horrid tale of the slaughter and arson by men in uniform to Saima Bhat
On Jan 6, 1993, it was 8:55 in the morning and there was an explosion somewhere nearby. From a young age, I have the habit of reading the newspaper every morning on time. As usual, I went to the newspaper stall near Degree College, to get my newspaper. Everything appeared to be okay, still, there was some unease in the air. People were talking about that explosion which, it was later known, was actually an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast in the ‘New Colony’ area of Sopore.
I got my newspaper and went to a nearby shop, Nishat Textiles, in the Main Chowk to get something. It must have been around 9:55 am that a sound of a single bullet shot was heard. Nishat Textiles was visible from the bunkers of a nearby BSF camp housed in the State Bank Building. We ran a few paces towards main Bazar, which we thought was a bit safer. It was just behind the main Chowk where a J&K Bank branch is located now. We took shelter inside a building and went upstairs on the 2nd floor. More gunfire was heard.
There were around 10-12 men and some women in the room. Everybody lay flat. I was the youngest among the people marooned in that room. Unmarried and just over 24 then, I tried to peep through the window. Other people wouldn’t move even when we heard heavy footsteps on the roads and the BSF men saying, ‘Jo be samney aayai maar daalo sab ko‘. (Kill whosoever comes your way!).
At 10.30 a.m. we heard a bus coming and I again peeped through the window. An SRTC bus, JKY 1901 was moving on the Sopore-Bandipora Road. The BSF men stopped the bus and ordered the driver out. Some BSF men boarded the bus and started firing on the passengers indiscriminately. There was a bloodbath but some still escaped bullets. They were bundled in the groups of threes and shot one by one. More than 20 people were killed in that bus alone.
After killing the passengers, the troopers started spraying gunpowder, petrol and kerosene on the surrounding buildings and then torched them. The building that we were hiding in was also set on fire. The BSF men were looking like hungry beasts; they were slaughtering anybody coming their way.
We thought we would die at any moment. If we left the building, the marauding troopers would kill us and if we stayed there in the room we would be burnt alive. As the ceiling of our room caught fire, we started to think that death was now imminent. It was so close. I said to the other people in the room that “if anybody among you survives and my body is found, please tell the people that I was actually a resident of Islamabad and was working here in a finance company.” I also requested them to send my body to my native town for burial only if my face was recognizable. “Otherwise get me buried in Sopore”, I remember telling that to the people in that room.
We again heard the sound of a vehicle approaching, this time it was a ‘gypsy’ of J&K Police. ASP Bali came out of it. I decided to make a last ditch effort for survival. I was a chain smoker and had an empty cigarette pack in my hand; I crushed the cigarette pack and threw it down on that ASP. It touched him on his shoulder. He looked up and I waved at him through the window.
I heard him telling the BSF men not to shoot further and he asked me to come down. I refused. I could not trust the troopers. The ASP came to our room and asked all of us to come out [in Kashmiri- naebar neerew saare]. I saw dozens of people coming out from other rooms of the building also. ASP Bali ordered his men to make a way for us so that we could come out safely. We crossed the road and survived which was not less than a miracle.
Next day, on Jan 7, we– I and my other two friends– came out to bury the bodies of yesterday’s massacre. There were some more volunteers also. We checked their pockets for identity cards. Among the dead lying around, we found 37 were from Sopore alone. Others were from Bandipora, Baramulla and two were from Srinagar.
Two youngsters had gone to bury the bodies on the same day but they too were killed. They were shot dead while removing the bodies.
I dug up 14 graves myself and helped bury 37 bodies of Sopore. For others, we kept their identity cards on their bodies so that they could be recognized. There were so many bodies of men lying on the streets that handcarts were used to retrieve them. Total bodies found were 57-among them 48 died due to bullet shots and 9 were burnt alive. 16 got injured and among them, 12 died later and only 4 could survive.
We didn’t lose human lives only. More than 400 commercial establishments and 75 residential houses were set ablaze in five localities of Sopore- Armpora, Muslimpeer, Kralteng, Shallapora and Shahabad. Among the burnt buildings there were some landmark buildings like Women’s Degree College and Samad talkies.
One burnt body was outside a shop, near my rented accommodation. That body was severely burnt and would have dismembered on being touched. I eagle-spread my pheran on the road and pulled it under the charred body.
I remember how they killed my friend, Farooq Banday who was travelling in that Bandipora bound bus, they pulled him down and then a volley of bullets was showered on him. I was helpless and could do nothing to save my friend.
After the incident, I was still searching for my another friend, who was a tailor and would have normally been in his shop at the time of the incident. When I entered his shop I saw a heap of bones in the same place where my friend used to sit in the shop. I first thought of wrapping the bones in my pheran but then my eyes saw a black mourning flag hanging on the roadside and I decided to wrap his bones in that mourning flag only.
While coming out of his burnt shop, some high-rank BSF officer had come to the place and asked me to show me the bones but I refused, I told him I can’t allow you to touch his bones. I still remember those bones were just of 1 or 2 Kgs. That was Jan 9, and it had taken me three days to find his charred remains.
Sopore massacre of Jan 6, 1993, is one of the bloodiest massacres in Kashmir’s recent history. Many politicians and officials tried to come to Sopore after the incident but people didn’t even bother to listen to them. Visits of then Governor, Girish Chander Saxena, his advisor, Lt General Zaki, DGP Bedi were opposed with strong protest demonstrations. And then, the visit of a team from the centre of Ghulam Nabi Azad, ML Fotedar and PCC President, Ghulam Rasool Kar on Jan 9, was too opposed by the people of Sopore.
Later, we came to know that the bullet shot that we heard at 9.55am on Jan 6, was actually shot at a BSF man. A militant had run away with the machine gun lying beside a BSF trooper. Another militant shot the trooper who was shouting that his gun had been snatched.
That incident is believed to be provocation behind that massacre. However, many of us believe that another incident which took place only some days before the incident might have contributed to the BSF troopers’ fury. In Dec 1992, militants had burnt down Sopore’s old bridge- Hathi Shah bridge– near the Jamia Masjid. There were two large BSF bunkers on both sides of that bridge. Lt. General M A Zaki was Governor’s advisor then. It was said that he had reprimanded the BSF on how could the militants burn a bridge when there were bunkers on both of its ends.
After that mayhem of Jan 6, I could not sleep for 10 days. I went to my home in Islamabad on Jan 19, where mourners were coming to our house thinking I had also been killed in that incident. My mother asked me why I had returned home after so many days.
“You should thank God that at least I am alive and came back”. I gave her an example of a family of 5 members, whose 4 members including their one school going child had been killed.
I still remember how that tragic incident changed our lives. Whenever I remember that day, I tremble and my body starts sweating. On some occasions, I really feel alone, and depressed, like in the last year when my tailor friend’s daughter got married. I could not sleep. I smoked throughout the night. All the scenes of that bloody day were flashing in front of my eyes.
(Abdul Hamid Bhat, lives in Sopore with his wife and three daughters where he runs an independent business.)