On a cold morning of January 27, 1994, Ghulam Hassan Sheikh, then 32, reopened his tea stall on an intersection in the main town Kupwara after a day’s break.
By the time Sheikh cleaned his shop, everything seemed to be normal. However, after an hour or so, a single shot rattled the peaceful ambience of this frontier town turning it into an open mortuary.
On this day in 1994, 27 innocent civilians were massacred by the soldiers of 15 Punjab Regiment for observing a shutdown, a day earlier on Republic Day. 21 years down the line, the survivors are yet to come in terms with life.
“Being alive after witnessing the tyranny of army men on that day is a miracle. I spend 3 hours in freezing cold in a drain to escape the wrath of the blood thirsty soldiers,” Sheikh, who runs a small restaurant at the main market, Kupwara, said.
Sheikh says that the army opened indiscriminate fire on civilians killing 27 and injuring dozens of others to teach the people a “lesson” for observing a shutdown on January 26.
“A police man was arguing with some soldiers, as a convoy was passing by. By the time convoy left, a soldier fired a shot. Seconds later, his colleagues emptied their magazines on innocent civilians. Had I not taken shelter beneath a drain, I too would have been among the dead,” says Sheikh, as he struggles to hold his tears.
He said that after the bloodbath, the soldiers went on rampage breaking into residential houses, shops and offices like “hungry wolves”. He said many civilians, who miraculously escaped the massacre, were beaten by the soldiers.
“For over five hours, the soldiers let loose a reign of terror. They beat people irrespective of age and gender. Those who lifted dead and injured were not spared as well. It was a horrible scene,” says Sheikh.
The army, he said, also conducted a crackdown and subjected people to identification to harass them further. He said over two decades have passed but the guilty soldiers have not been punished despite a case registered against them.
“India will never punish its soldiers. They have been sent here to kill innocents. However, killings won’t deter us from seeking our birth right,” says Sheikh.
The police registered a case (First Information Report 19/94) under Sections 302, 307 and 149 of the Ranbir Penal Code, and recorded the statements of a number of eyewitnesses during investigation. The witnesses held the said army unit responsible for the killings.
The police sought details of the officers and personnel deputed for road opening on that day. But the army furnished no such information.
Pertinently, the police sought details of the officers and personnel deputed for road opening on that day. But the army furnished no such information.
In a reply, the army unit said that a court of inquiry had been constituted in the case. But again, the army disclosed no details of the inquiry subsequently. The case was finally closed as “untraced” in
April 1997 after repeated communications for information however, International Forum for Justice (IFJ), led by Mohammad Ahsan Untoo took the case with State Human Rights Commission (SHRC).
On January 28, 2003 the SHRC listed the case for final arguments on March 11. The order was made after a Deputy Secretary in the Home Department of the Government of India submitted a report from the Inspector General of Police of the Criminal Investigations Department in Jammu and Kashmir along with the covering letter from the state’s Director General of Police. (GNS)