Bijbehara-MassacreTwenty four years ago, on 22 October 1993, Bijbehara, my hometown, was struck by a vicious massacre that killed scores of peaceful protestors who were demanding revocation of a military siege of famous shrine, Dargah Hazratbal. According to the state government’s own magisterial enquiry report, “a procession of 2,000 to 3,000 people” that was “entirely peaceful and unarmed” was attacked by the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF). The report establishes “beyond any shadow of doubt that firing upon the procession was absolutely unprovoked” and found that the paramilitary force “committed offence out of vengeance and their barbarous act … [was] deliberate and well-planned”.

The brutality of the official insensitivity can be gauged from the fact that despite two and a half decades since the massacre, the actual number of the slain is unknown and remains disputed. The official enquiry claimed the BSF killed 31 civilians and injured 73 persons, but unofficial accounts variously talk of 50 or even more deaths. An Amnesty International report put the civilian death toll at over 70. More than 200 were injured, some of them seriously, and many with serious life-altering injuries. The enquiry report “recommended the immediate dismissal” of the murderous personnel and “initiation of criminal proceedings” to “ensure that justice is done and maximum possible punishment under the law of the land is awarded to such malignant and sick minded individuals”. Like scores of other massacres in Kashmir, justice eludes both — the victims and the perpetrators — of this massacre.

A week before the massacre, the Kashmir valley was plunged into deep crisis due to what is known as the Hazratbal siege. On 14 October, the Indian armed forces laid a siege to the sacred Hazratbal shrine, a white marbled dome structure with imposing minarets, on the banks of the famous Dal Lake. The shrine holds a lock of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), known as moe-e-muqaddas, making it the most revered monument in the province. It attracts millions of devotees annually, mainly on special occasions of the Islamic calendar, when people from everywhere come for a glimpse of the holy lock that is revealed from atop all the four minarets to afford a glance to the devotees thronging in all directions. Because of the siege, whole Kashmir was put under a total lockdown through curfews and spontaneous strikes, and resultant public demonstrations to press for lifting the military embargo.

The Bijbehara massacre remains one of the cruellest state-enacted murders. The official enquiry report establishes that it was thoroughly planned with active inputs from senior operational authorities. Out of the 22 martyrs from the town who are buried in the local martyr’s graveyard, previously a public park, 16 were teenagers, all of them students. Afroz Ahmed Zarger was the youngest of all — he was barely 12 years old and studying in the 5th class when the bullets snatched him. He wanted to become a doctor and was known to be a hard-working student. Most of the slain students had big dreams for their life. More than a dozen of them wanted to become medical doctors. Javed Ahmed Waza, 18, Shabir Ahmad Sheikh, 17, and Shabir Ahmad Shah, 18, all wanted to become medical doctors. So did Mukhtar Ahmed Ganaie, 18; Muhammad Iqbal Ganaie, 17; Altaf Hussain Sheikh, 15; Riyaz Ahmed Gatoo, 15; Abdul Rashid Vaid, 17; Mushtaq Ahmed Ganaie, 18; Muhammad Shafi Wagay, 18; and Muhammad Ashraf Zargar, 14. I fondly remember Arshid Hussain Tak, 17, whom I had known for a long time. He also wanted to be a doctor. Several months before the massacre, Arshid had carved his name on one of the concrete fence walls of the then public park that was converted to the martyr’s graveyard following the massacre. Arshid got a place within the grounds of his favourite park, albeit a berth for eternal rest. Several years later, his father, also a doctor, was killed in cold blood by the government sponsored militia gunmen.

A unique thing about the massacre, though by no means any reason for consolation, is that one of those murdered was a Hindu. Kamal Ji Koul was 17 years old and a student of 7th class. Like the rest of the townsfolk, he was part of the protest demonstration. I vividly remember my visit to his family in the old town and the pain and the disbelief of his parents was heart wrenching. According to local reports, his mother was left so heartbroken that she died within a couple of years after her son’s death — a phenomenon repeated in several such instances wherein mothers are unable to cope with the loss and perish soon after. Although the Kashmiri women have shown unprecedented resilience, they have been the worst sufferers of the brutality that remains under the control and direction of men of diverse ideologies and operating architectures.

Post script:

The official motives for the Hazratbal siege were thoroughly justifiable — the military wanted to flush out the armed militants who had made the shrine as their permanent base. However, the ensuing brutality to control the public sentiment turned the situation in favour of the holed up militants. Otherwise, most of the public viewed the militant presence inside the shrine as sacrilegious, as they had not only turned the complex into their operational base, but also a torture centre and an extortion hub. We could draw an analogy with Islamabad’s Lal Masjid before the Musharraf government ordered a full scale military crackdown. At the time, I remember there was growing public outrage against the militant activities inside the shrine, but it was often discussed in private for fear of militant reprisals, who were by no means any less violent.

Thankfully, after 32 days, the siege ended with the surrender of 65 holed up militants, mainly from the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. They were given a safe passage amid rumours that millions of rupees also changed hands.

Sadly, the families of the victims — both slain and the injured — got nothing but a lifetime of lament.

Murtaza Shibli is a writer and consultant on Muslim issues in Europe and South Asia. He is also the editor of ‘7/7: Muslim Perspectives’, a book that explores the British Muslim reaction to the London bombings. Twitter: murtaza_shibli


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2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The ghastly incident has never been probed completely and guilty punished by the government. The survivors including injured, the families of dead and those who list their husbands, etc did not receive any compensation or even a word of sympathy from the rulers.

  2. samir sardana says:

    BSF

    B = BIJBEHARA
    S = SOPORE
    F = FETAMI

    What is BSF ? Is is a crminal mafia of rapists,murderers,sumgglers,drug dealers,cow smugglers, sodomisers,spies and men who sell military munitions.dindooohindoo

    • THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA HAS ISSUED A NOTICE TO THE BSF AND THE UNION OF INDIA, ON A MATTER OFWANTON KILLINGS AND TORTURE BY THE BSF AT THE INDO-BANGLADESH BORDER
    o https://thewire.in/rights/felani-khatun-killing-bangladesh-border-supreme-court
    • THE DG OF THE BSF HAS STATED ON PUBLIC RECORDS THAT ALL BSF POSTS ARE HIGHLY CORRUPTION PRONE
    o https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/bsf-corruption-all-posts-corruption-prone-kk-sharma-tej-bahadur-yadav-1023298-2017-07-09
    • THE BSF HAS THE DUBIOUS DISTINCTION OF BEING BANNED AND DENIED CANADIAN VISAS, BY THE CANADIAN HIGH COMMISSION,DUE TO ITS PRACTICE OF TORTURE AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
    o https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/canada-accuses-bsf-of-human-rights-violations-418637
    • THE CREDIBILITY OF THE BSF INVESTIGATIVE PROCESS IS APPARENT, BY THE STATEMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH,AS UNDER :
    o “While the Indian government claims that it holds its forces accountable, it produces no information to show that this is actually happening,” said Ganguly. “There appears to be complete impunity for BSF soldiers – even in the most egregious cases. Unless the government orders an independent investigation and ensures the prosecutions of those against whom credible evidence is found, such acts of brutality will continue.”

    • THE BSF IS IN GROSS VIOLATION OF THE UN CONVENTION OF THE “Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials”., IN WANTON KILLING OF INNOCENT BANGLADESHIS IN THE INDO-BANGLADESH BORDER
    o https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/unlawful-killings-along-india-border-bangladeshi-families-seek-justice/2141343
    • NHRC HAS DIRECTED THE BSF TO PAY COMPENSATION FOR THE KILLING AND MURDER OF CIVILIANS IN THE BANGLADESH BORDER
    o https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/nhrc-directs-mha-to-pay-rs-5-lakh-to-felani-khatuns-father/articleshow/48745819.cms?from=mdr
    • JUST 1 NGO BY THE NAME OF MASUM HAS FILED 100s OF COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE BSF WITH THE NHRC,AND THE CALCUTTA HIGH COURT AND THE SUPREME COURT.
    • SOME OF THE SPECIFIC COMPLAINTS REPORTED TO THE NHRC,W.R.T THE WANTON KILLING BY THE BSF ARE AS UNDER :
    o MASUM reported to the National Human Rights Commission of India that on November 18, 2020, BSF soldiers beat and shot to death Samser Pramanik, 16, in Cooch Behar district in West Bengal state for alleged cross-border cattle smuggling. The soldiers allegedly detained Pramanik when he was trying to take cattle across the border, beat him with bamboo sticks and rifle butts until he fell unconscious, and then shot him in the chest and left him at the border fence. The Haldibari police station filed an unnatural death case, but so far has failed to take further action.
    o On August 9, 2020, a BSF soldier allegedly shot and killed Sahinur Haque, 23, in Cooch Behar district, MASUM reported. At about 7 p.m., a rubber pellet fired by BSF personnel hit Haque while he was playing games on his cellphone with his brother and cousin in front of his house. A soldier then allegedly beat and shot him. The police filed a case of unnatural death.
    o The news media reported that on April 19, 2020, a BSF soldier killed a 16-year-old Bangladeshi boy, Shimon Roy, in Thakurgaon district in Bangladesh. His father, a schoolteacher, said he and his son were building a fence around their jute field when a BSF soldier entered inside Bangladesh territory and told them to leave the place. When they protested, saying they were on their land, the soldier allegedly shot the boy in the abdomen.
    o On July 4, 2020, BSF soldiers allegedly shot a 50-year-old Bangladeshi man in Chapai Nawabganj district. A local lawmaker said that after the man went to the area to cut grass for livestock and inadvertently crossed the border, BSF personnel allegedly killed him and moved his body back into Bangladesh territory.