Massacre Of A Town
By Murtaza Shibli
28 October 2006
22nd October 1993, during a peaceful protest against the Hazratbal siege,
around 50 civilians were killed and 200 injured by the Indian paramilitary
Border Security Force (BSF) in Bijbehara, district Anantnag, on the
Indian side of Kashmir. The atrocity was committed by the 74 Battalion
of BSF, and was initiated and directed by its second most senior officer,
Deputy Commandant JK Radola, who fired the first shot in the crowd.
13 years on, the government
enquiry into the massacre has yielded nothing, just like hundreds of
other enquiries into atrocities committed by the Indian government such
as massacres, rapes, and custodial killings. The murderers belonging
to the 74 BN of Border Security Force remain free and the victims of
the carnage are yet to receive any justice.
For many months, the paramilitary
forces and the Indian army in the town had been in search for an opportunity
to avenge the townspeople for suffering heavy losses in the past at
the hands of militants in frequent encounters and ambushes. As a result
of these casualties and failure of the Indian army to contain militant
activities against them, the army and the paramilitary forces had been
doing their rounds of various localities in the town threatening the
inhabitants that they would soon be taught a lesson for sheltering ‘terrorists’.
Many of them declaring that Bijbehara was a town full of terrorists
and that some day the paramilitary forces would have to burn the whole
town down to get rid of them.
Prior to the massacre, in
the month of August, there was a large incident of gang rape and molestation
in the town. The incident was only hushed up as the elders in the town
thought it could bring shame to the families. Later in the same month,
the army raped a woman in Gadhangipora on the outskirts of Bijbehara
town in response to a militant attack.
On 15th October, the BSF
looked very agitated and started beating up local people in various
places, accusing them of being terrorists. One of my former teachers
and a senior Education Officer, Bashir Ahmad Shah, was also beaten up
ruthlessly as he was coming home from his work. The BSF personnel who
beat him up told him that all the people of Bijbehara town were terrorists
and that they would soon forget to laugh.
The event that finally led
to the carnage happened only five days earlier on 17th October, when
a group of militants attacked a small contingent of BSF, snatching a
rifle from a soldier and killing him. Later, the BSF cordoned off parts
of Bijbehara and beat up hundreds of men, women and children. In a meeting
with the local elders of the town, the BSF threatened them stating that
they should handover the rifle back to the BSF or be prepared to pay
the price. The meeting was held in the local police station in the presence
of senior Police Officers who could not face up to the threatening and
abusive BSF officers.
It had been more than a week
since the Dargah Hazratbal was placed under siege by the Indian army
due to the militants being inside the shrine complex. The people of
Kashmir did not appreciate the militants occupying the shrine, nonetheless
they were also angry and sad at the siege of the holiest Muslim shrine
in the Valley. The widespread anger would often be publicized in the
form of sporadic public demonstrations. As a consequence of the Hazratbal
siege, the whole of the Kashmir Valley was shut down with roads, town
centres and offices being deserted.
On the fateful day, after
finishing their Friday prayers, around 10,000 to 15,000 people gathered
in the court yard of the local Jamia Masjid to register their protest
against the army siege. A procession then started marching through various
streets shouting slogans for the ending of the Hazratbal siege and in
support of Kashmir’s freedom.
When the procession reached
the main road (Srinagar-Jammu National Highway) that divides the town,
there was a large contingent of the Border Security Force. As the whole
procession reached on top of the road in the Gooriwan locality, Bijbehara,
the BSF personnel closed in on the protestors from three sides and started
to fire indiscriminately on them, killing at least 37 people on the
spot and injuring more than 200 others. The firing continued for nearly
ten minutes with the troops targeting the crowd and those who lay injured
on the ground, in fact any one who showed any visible movement or signs
When people from outside
the procession tried to rescue those who were injured, they too were
targeted including medical and paramedical staff. No ambulances or medical
staff was allowed access to those who were lying on the ground, even
though the hospital was only yards away from the massacre site. According
to the local doctors in the hospital on that day, most of the people
could have been saved had the ambulances and medical aid been allowed
to reach the victims. The BSF also stopped ambulances and medical aid
from the nearby town Anantnag. Later, when people did manage to take
some of the injured away into the hospital, the BSF personnel even fired
at them inside the hospital complex, killing and injuring more people.
One such example is of a young man in his early twenties, Muhammad Shafi
Wagay, whose house was only a few yards away from where the massacre
took place. His brother Abdur Rashid was seriously injured and somehow
Muhammad Shafi managed to take him to the hospital, but as he did, the
BSF fired at him killing him on the spot in the hospital grounds. Conversely,
his injured brother survived the carnage, spending about a month in
Indian Media: the
Whilst the victims of the
BSF massacre lay dying crying for help, the local Indian television,
Doordarshan, was screaming that ‘the situation in Kashmir was
peaceful’. Later, when the news of the massacre spread, the official
version of the massacre stated that ‘the government announces
with regret the Bijbehara killings which was as a consequence of the
fire opened by the militants on a road-opening party’. This theory
of militant attack was duly supported by two premier Indian news agencies
- UNI and PTI. These agencies, in collusion with the local BSF authorities,
also falsely spread news reports that many of the dead were militants
who were involved in various previous militant activities, including
killings and attacks on the paramilitary forces. These false reports
were carried, and given prominent space, by all the Indian newspapers
and other media outlets.
Soon after the first news
of the carnage went out, the authorities promptly barred independent
local and international media persons from entering into the town, some
were even beaten up and their cameras seized. The next day, on the 23rd
of October, when a large number of local and foreign media people converged
on the town, the army used violence and shot in the air to stop them
from visiting the old side of the town and the newly dug ‘martyrs
graveyard’. The army even attacked mourners in the graveyard that
were burying their dead from the carnage.
Only two days after the carnage,
the Commandant of the trigger happy 74 BN of the BSF, SC Kokereti, ‘claimed’
that 17 of the killed were found to be militants. Again this claimed
was carried out and presented as authentic by the Indian media groups.
According to these ‘claims’ one of the deceased, 17 year
old Abdur Rashid Vaid, son of Abdul Hamid Vaid was a JKLF militant who
was responsible for an earlier militant action in which an army Major,
RS George, was killed. However, the killing of the Major was carried
out by Hizbul Mujahideen, exposing the faults in the BSF story. Abdur
Rashid was a class nine student and brother of the slain JKLF militant
Mushtaq Ahmad Vaid, who was earlier killed in custody by the army.
The BSF also blamed another
dead, 11 year old student of 7th class Mohammad Iqbal Ganaie, as one
of the ‘leading figures of JKLF who was involved in many acts
of terrorism and extortion’.
In yet another example, BSF
blamed that one of the deceased, 16 year old Kamal Ji, was also a terrorist.
However, when they came to know that the deceased was a Hindu, the accusation
was silently dropped. Kamal Ji Tikoo was a young member of the only
Hindu Pandit family that was living in Bijbehara. I remember the townspeople
of Bijbehara, despite being immersed in grief, gathered in the local
temple in support of Kamal Ji and his body was taken by a crowd of more
than a thousand to the immolation ground where the locals had gathered
the wood and prepared the funeral pyre. Kamal Ji became the third Hindu
martyr of Bijbehara, one of the previous two also being killed by the
army, and the other by the militants.
These accusations by the
BSF, further amplified by the Indian media, were sickening and showed
utter disregard for the feelings of the families of the victims.
or Eye Wash Commission
When all its efforts to ‘justify’
the murders failed, the government ordered a magisterial inquiry into
the killings and the BSF unit posted at Bijbehara was withdrawn. Moreover,
it was the then BSF Director, General Prakash Singh, who instituted
a Commissioner to inquire into the massacre. The inquiry was termed
as an ‘eye wash’ by the local people as well as the local
media as there had been umpteen such enquiries into previous murders,
rapes, massacres, but they had not produced any results.
The enquiry report, vide
number EN/BFC/93/23-24, prepared by the Enquiry Magistrate Bijbehara
and submitted to the government on 13th November 1993, concluded that
‘firing upon the procession was absolutely unprovoked and the
claim made by the security forces that they were forced to retaliate
the firing of militants for self-defence is baseless and concocted’.
The Enquiry Magistrate’s report further stated that ‘The
security personnel have committed offence out of vengeance and their
barbarous act was deliberate and well planned’. The report indicts
Deputy Commandant of the BSF, JK Radola, for ‘tacit approval given
by him to the indiscriminate and un-provoked firing’.
The report recommended ‘the
immediate dismissal of the accused persons who committed this dastardly
act’. It further recommended that ‘this should be further
followed up with the initiation of criminal proceedings against them
and every effort should be made 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’.
The Bijbehara massacre is
particularly important because it followed the September 1993 passage
of the Human Rights Protection Act by the Indian Parliament, adopted
under the pressure of persistent allegations of human rights abuses
in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as in other areas of armed conflict in
India. The law established the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC),
which began operations in October 1993 and promptly took up the Bijbehara
massacre. However, it soon became apparent that the Commission would
not be able to challenge the armed forces’ effective immunity
from prosecution under Indian laws.
After strong strictures passed
by the NHRC, 13 BSF men were charged with murder, but the subsequent
General Security Force Court (GSFC) trial led to their acquittal. When
the Commission 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 BJP government, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, refused.
On November 1st 1993, the
National Human Rights Commission sent notices to the Ministry of Home
Affairs, which controls the Border Security Force. The Ministry subsequently
sent to the NHRC a report on the incident based on the magisterial inquiry
ordered by the state government as well as one based on the Staff Court
of Inquiry ordered by the BSF, which claimed that disciplinary proceedings
had been initiated against fourteen BSF officials, but no details were
On January 17th 1994, the
Commission, based on the government report, made some strong recommendations
that included immediate interim compensation to the victims’ families
and that, apart from disciplinary proceedings under the Border Security
Force Act, there should be parallel criminal prosecution proceedings
based on the magisterial inquiry.
However, the Indian government
did not respond positively to these recommendations. Nearly three years
after the NHRC had called for action, on November 12th 1996, A.K. Tandon,
then Director General of the BSF, informed the NHRC that “a General
Security Force Court trial was conducted in respect of the twelve BSF
personnel involved in the said incident,” but that results of
the trial were “being withheld for the time being.” The
Border Security Force had initially claimed that it had taken action
against the responsible officials, but the only available information
available about this concerns one sub-inspector who the BSF told the
NHRC had been found not guilty. According to press reports, all those
charged with murder were acquitted by the General Security Force Court.
The recommendations of the
NHRC or the Enquiry Magistrate were not implemented as the Indian central
government jeopardized every effort and move that would lead to the
dispensation of justice. The Indian ministries of Home and Defence refused
access to the case files of the Court Martial to India’s National
Human Rights Commission. As a result the BSF men that committed the
massacre could not be punished. In September 2000 the NHRC finally dismissed
the case without dispensing justice to the victims and their families.
Twenty three year old Farooq
Ahmad Bhat, son of Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, was a local chemist running
a small shop in front of the hospital. On the day of the carnage, he
was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the brutality and the subsequent
sufferings of the victims and their families. On the very day, we went
together to most of the families of the victims to offer our condolences
and help with the burial in the local park which was turned into a ‘martyrs’
graveyard’. I was also undertaking reporting for the local newspapers.
Farooq was also a representative
of the Institute of Kashmir Studies (IKS), a Kashmir-based human rights
monitoring group. Farooq became active to collect the details of the
massacre for IKS, recording statements of those killed and injured.
His human rights work made him an enemy of the army and paramilitary
forces and only a few days later in November he was threatened by the
military intelligence. They also started coming to his shop and asking
him questions about his involvement with the militants.
On 1st December 2003, at
around midday, Farooq Ahmad Bhat was busy serving his customers when
a vehicle of an army unit from 1st Rashtriya Rifles stopped on the road
near his shop. Two of the troops asked him to come with them for some
‘investigation’ and thus he was taken in the full view of
the public. The next day, when his family tried to contact the army,
they claimed that on the same day Farooq had escaped from their custody
near Pazalpora village, on the outskirts of Bijbehara. Since then his
family are trying to trace the whereabouts of Farooq without any success.
It is generally believed that Farooq was tortured to death by the army
and then his dead body dumped somewhere in the forest or buried in a
mountainous region. Farooq is just one of the 7,000 missing persons
in Kashmir who have been ceased mostly by the Indian army and the paramilitary
forces; persons whose fate are still unknown today.
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