Too Many Tragedies

Scores of mourners carrying the body of slain Mirwaiz in 1990 were killed when forces opened fire on the funeral procession, adding a black day to Kashmir’s bloody history. Hussain Danish reports.

A brightly lit ready-made garments shop at Mirza Kamil Chowk at Hawal in Srinagar has become a shoppers’ attraction. A couple of young salesmen are busy attending customers showing them different Jeanswear and formal clothing. Its young owner, Zubair Nowshehri, is sitting on the staircase outside with his eyes set on the road that leads to the memorial built near the Islamia College of Science and Commerce (ICSC) at Gojwara. The memorial has his father’s name inscribed on it.

His father, Nazir Ahmad Nowshehri (Hawal), is among the 70 victims of May 21, 1990 shootout that followed the assassination of Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Farooq. The modest memorial has been built at the site of the shootout.

“I do not know much about my father. I only have a vague impression of his face. I have no idea how he looked or behaved,” says Zubair Nazir Nowshehri, who was one and a half-year-old toddler at the time of his father’s death.

Zubair can only recollect what he has been told about his father’s death.  Nazir the descendant of a ‘Bakra’ family—die-hard supporters of Maulvi clan in Kashmir had learned about the assassination of Mirwaiz. He went to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura where the chief preacher with considerable influence had been taken after he was shot. Mirwaiz was declared brought dead.

As the funeral procession reached Mirza Kamil Chowk, Nazir’s father, Late Ali Muhammad Nowshehri, managed to drag his son home. Nazir, along with the other men of his family, gave his father a slip, rejoining the procession. And minutes later the news of his death reached his home.

Besides Zubair, 26- year-old Nazir left behind three daughters and a young wife, Mehjabeen. The girls were in primary at Islamia High School Rajouri Kadal.

“One of my sisters was in the sixth standard; one in third; and the other one had been almost of my age,” Zubair recollects what he has learned from others. “We had been too young to realise all that was happening.”

Mehjabeen was a housewife and Zubair too young to head the family. They chose to stay in the joint family.

“After my father’s death, our grandpa did not allow us to leave the home. He and my uncle were taking care of our family business and with that, they were managing all the expenses,” remembers Zubair.

Three years later Zubair was admitted in school, but, unexpectedly, neither he nor his sisters could excel at studies. Zubair dropped out in the ninth standard; one of his sisters graduated and the other two did not go too far either. He joined his family business.

“I studied till ninth then I left studies,” he says and is at loss to think of a reason for quitting studies. “Then I began working with my uncle and grandfather.”

Zubair started shouldering the responsibilities of his family. With the help of his uncle and grandfather, he married off two sisters; managed a new house; and established a new business for himself.

“After the death of grandpa, Uncle constructed a new house and we also managed to renovate the old house. I also started this readymade garments store,” he says.

As his uncle, Ghulam Muhammad, shifted to another house, there are only three people in the house – Zubair, his mother and a sister.

The fateful day claimed another life in the family besides his father. Ghulam Muhammad’s wife had also fallen to bullets on that day. Ghulam Muhammad still runs the family’s Jewelry business from the adjoining shop.

The Jewelry shop has that old look with a large safe at the rear and grey carpets underneath the old-styled furniture. Sitting on the same seat he had once shared with his brother, Muhammad has got more to share.

“Zubair was not the only one losing one of the parents on that day,” he says. Shakeela, recollects Muhammad, had gone to get the children from Islamia School. Unlike most others, when the firing at the procession started Shakeela did not return home. The news of her death was to follow that of Nazir’s.

“Our entire family was out in the procession but as the firing started we returned home. The only ones among our family who did not return were Nazir and Shakeela,” says Muhammad.

“We first learned that Nazir was killed but only seconds later someone came with the news that Shakeela was dead too. It (losing the brother and wife on the same day) was hard.”

They had a son and a daughter, who were sent to her parental house. “My son was in second and daughter in the third class. After Shakeela’s death I was forced to send them to her parental home for upbringing,” says Muhammad.

Now the children have grown up. His daughter is married and his son has joined him in the business.

“That was a difficult moment to live. We were all together but two of us never returned home. When the firing occurred, we were of the impression that only Nazir was dead but we never expected to see the two bodies on the same day, that of two of my closest ones,” says Muhammed. “We did not even see their bodies. They were straightaway taken for burial from the spot of their death.”

The standing memorial, in the form of a drinking water facility for the public, outside the ICSC has many more names, most of them from the old city.

On the day Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq had been shot dead at his Nigeen residence, the news, according to poet and social activist, Zarief Ahmad Zarief, spread like wildfire and sea of Mirwaiz loyalists headed north towards SKIMS. Minutes later the gathering returned with Mirwaiz’s body.

“A large number of mourners were taking his body to Rajouri Kadal – the ancestral residence of Mirwaiz,” recalls Zarief.

A big bunker had been built on the main road near ICSC, housing a large contingent of security forces.  Zarief says that the forces had also created a make-shift interrogation centre within the Islamia College itself.

“As the procession reached the gate of Islamia College (ICSC), the security forces in the bunker opened fire,” says Zarief, an eyewitness to the incident.

“I climbed to the third floor of my house at Makhdoom Sahib because from there the site of the incident is clearly visible. The firing was followed by wails and the loud cries of La ilaha Il’lallah (a Muslim prayer) among the mourners. It was a tragic scene.”

The firing continued for nearly 10 minutes. “It was indiscriminate firing that killed 70 people on spot. People were hit all around their bodies. Bullets hit Mirwaiz’s body in the face. Some mourners lost their eyes, some legs and so on. Many of the injured are still struggling to recover,” Zarief says.

The mourners managed to take Mirwaiz’s body to Islamia High School where it was kept overnight. The 70 bodies were also taken to Martyr’s Graveyard at Eidgah for the burial.

The next morning, first the funeral prayers of Mirwaiz were offered at the Islamia School and then that of the 70 victims of the shootout.

“Collective Fatiha was offered at Eidgah. Thousands of people took part in the prayers. The firing had converted the entire city into a mourning ground. It was a tragic moment,” says Zarief. “Entire Kashmir observed strike for 15 consecutive days against the gruesome incident.”

A case was registered immediately after the incident and the government also initiated a departmental inquiry to identify the culprits. While the departmental inquiry identified the culprits as the members of 69 Bn CRPF, the case is yet to be taken up for the trial.

“The commandant and the deputy commandant of the CRPF battalion were identified as the main culprits in the case. But later they threatened the witnesses so naturally, no one was punished,” claim the advocates who are heading the legal cell of the committee.

The Awami Action Committee is mulling legal action for trial in the case. “We are planning to file an RTI following which we will legally seek trial in case,” the advocates said.

The government had accused five persons in the Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq assassination. One of the accused Mohammed Ayub Dar was awarded life imprisonment while Abdul Rehman Shigan and Abdullah Bangroo had expired during the pendency of the trial. Two other accused in the case Javed Ahmed Bhat and Zahoor Ahmed were untraceable.

Majority of the people killed on that day were from the old city. Nobody seems to have kept the track of the victims’ families as most of them have shifted their residences. Even the Awami Action Committee does not have the exact locations of the victims’ families.

The death toll in that firing incident is, however, disputed. The memorial mentions 70 names that fell to bullets but the list maintained by the Awami Action committee (Mirwaiz’s political party) has only 52 names. The government puts the figure at 27.

After the incident, New Delhi recalled the state’s governor Jagmohan and, reportedly, blamed the killing of Mirwaiz on Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Pakistan. A commission of inquiry was also promised in the case besides ex-gratia relief to all the victims’ families.

“Both the commission of inquiry as well as the ex-gratia relief offered by the centre were rejected by the people,” said Zarief. “Police registered a case but it was given no consideration by the people.”

More than two decades after the incident the bunker from which the forces opened fire on the mourners was removed recently.

A shopping mall has come up near the massacre site in place of erstwhile residential homes. In older buildings, new shops have been added.

The “interrogation centre” in the college too has given way to the newly constructed boy’s hostel. The college has been renovated after it was set ablaze during the peak of militancy.

The anniversary of Mirwaiz’s martyrdom is observed every year and the valley shuts down on May 21.

The Awami Action committee organizes seminars, debates, blood donation camps in memory of those killed. As an annual routine, a medical cum blood donation camp is set-up at Jamia Masjid on the anniversary of the bloodshed. Earlier it was held at the site of the massacre.

With the 21st anniversary of the killings just around the corner, the hoardings displaying the slain Mirwaiz have been put up in various streets and city squares. However, very few people know about the families that lost their loved ones.

“When Maulvi Sahib was martyred, Muhammad Maqbool left home to take part in the procession. We did not know that he will never return,” says one of his relatives. Unlike most other victims, Maqbool was buried in the ancestral graveyard.

“On that day most people did not see the face of their loved ones before burial because the bodies were not taken to their homes. But we insisted on taking Maqbool’s body home so we could see his face before he was taken away forever,” recollects the relative. “He was not married so there was no one to carry forward his lineage. His identity is reduced to the name inscribed on the memorial at Gojwara…and that is it.”

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