The month of January is remembered as the month of massacres in Kashmir valley. It started with Sopore Massacre which signaled the beginning of horrors for common people caught in a conflict zone and probably ended on January 27, 1994 with another massacre in Kupwara.
Kupwara Massacre is one of the many wounds inflicted on the psyche of Kashmiri people which remains unhealed. 27 harmless civilians were shot dead in Kupwara Massacre for observing shutdown on India’s Republic Day and a police investigation had clearly indicted Army personnel for indiscriminately firing on civilians.
The union ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had told the ministry of Defence to cooperate with J&K Police in nabbing the Army personnel involved in the crime but the perpetrators continue to roam freely even after 19 years, just like the culprits of other massacres and killings.
Deputy Secretary, MHA, PK Ahuja had asked the MoD on October 30, 2012 to provide the nominal role of Army men who were on duty in Kupwara on January 27, 1994. MHA makes a clean breast about the non-cooperation by Army and says that the negative approach has jeopardised further investigation of the case.
On May-11-2012, a report submitted by Inspector General of Police (CID) to Director General of Police, J&K stated that the forces deployed in Kupwara under the command of 2nd Lieutenant S Bakshi indiscriminately fired at Bus Stand Kupwara without any provocation, killing several persons besides injuring many.
SURVIVORS RECOUNT THE MASSACRE:
“A patrol party of Punjab regiment of Army had warned the shopkeepers on the eve of January 26 of dire consequences if they observe strike and didn’t celebrate the R-day. On 24 January 1994 some Army men and policemen entered into a verbal duel near old bridge Kupwara and soldiers threatened police of dire consequences after Jan 26 passes off peacefully. Next day on Jan 25 some Army personnel called out worshipers from Jamia Masjid Kupwara and thrashed them including Imam of the Masjid. On Jan 26 as usual people of Kupwara observed complete shutdown. Next day early in the morning we met the then district magistrate Kupwara Yaseen Shah at his residential quarter and brought the excesses and thrashing of Imam into his notice who assured us that matter will be taken up with the concerned army higher ups.”
“We returned after meeting the DC. As we were about to reach the old bridge a single firing shot was heard which was followed by a rain of bullets. All were seen running for safety, the firing lasted at least for an hour. I hid in a vegetable shop. After a lull I came out of the shop and there were horrific scenes of bloodbath all around.”
“Among the 27 people killed by Army, mostly were traders, some government employees and a policeman. As many as 38 persons were injured, some left handicapped for life.”
GULAM MOHI-UD-DIN MIR:
“It was a foggy morning of Jan 27. The shopkeepers had hardly opened their shops. I was accompanying my brother Gulam Nabi Malik, working in social forestry department, who was going to attend his duties at Divisional Forest Office Zangli. As we reached near SDH Kupwara around 10:30 a.m. we heard some gun shots and within seconds there was firing from all directions. A soldier at hospital road aimed at my brother who was wearing a Khaki jacket and shot at him. Several bullets pierced his chest and he fell on ground. He started bleeding profusely. I was not allowed to lift my brother and take it to hospital which was hardly 50 yards away from the spot. Resultantly, my brother died on the spot. I along with some other people took shelter on the upper storey of a medical shop and watching all this from a small door.
As the firing stopped, vehicles carrying injured started rushing towards the hospital, I saw an Army officer stopping a vehicle and asking the names and profession of the people.
As a vehicle carrying injured was stopped on the hospital gate, a man was asked by the Army officer to get down from the vehicle. He was shot dead on spot. Later he was identified as Khazr Muhammad of Cheerkote (Lolab) who had argued with the officer that he was an employee in DC office Kupwara and he was taking his injured relative to hospital.
I still remember the Army officer firing at Khazr Muhammad from a point blank range. I also took my brother to the hospital where doctors said that he was brought dead. There I saw 18 bodies including bodies of two policemen who were in uniform. Later 9 more injured succumbed to their injuries.”
“After the gruesome massacre, the Army men asked us to assemble in a ground and undergo an identification parade.
A boy of Awoora Kupwara died in front of his father, who begged the troops to allow him to take his son to hospital. But they didn’t pay heed to the pleas of his elderly father and left the boy to die.”
MUHAMAMD MAQBOOL PIR:
“I was posted at Sopore and was waiting for bus in Kupwara bus stand. Army convoy was passing from by-pass, suddenly some gun shots were heard and indiscriminate firing from forces from all sides started. I ran to take shelter near a bus, but a bullet hit me. I took refuge in a house at Dar Mohalla, the house belonged to Sanaullah Malik. I was provided first aid by the inmates. Around 4 pm there was a crack down and I along with other people were taken for an identification parade. When troops saw me bleeding I was immediately arrested, blindfolded and hand cuffed and taken to Zangli Army garrison. I pleaded before them that I was an employee in fire service department and not a militant. But they didn’t listen to me and I was tortured.
The then DC Kupwara Yaseen Shah reached Zangli and asked Army to free me, but I wasn’t.
Next day I was again bundled in Army jeep and taken to Drugmulla interrogation centre, from there I was taken to Badamibagh Army cantonment and kept in an interrogation centre for 19 days.”
“Enquiries revealed that forces deployed for duty fired indiscriminately at Bus Stand Kupwara. A case under FIR No 19/94 U/S 302, 307 149 RPC was registered and investigation was set in motion. The bodies of 18 persons were recovered including that of a police cop which were handed over to their legal heirs while as 38 injured persons were shifted to hospitals for treatment,” the CID report states.
“As per the statements recorded under U/S 161 CrPC and evidence, NCA personnel deployed for ROP duty in Kupwara town were responsible for the commission of crime. During the course of investigation, several correspondences were made with the concerned unit to provide nominal roll of officers/personnel deputed for ROP duty. Despite repeated requests, no response came from the concerned NCA unit. Thereafter correspondences were made with Colonel General Staff 28 Inf. Division Kupwara through DPO Kupwara and in a reply, a letter was received stating that Court of inquiry stands already constituted with regard to the said firing incident,” the CID report states.
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had asked the concerned authorities to submit their reports over the killings in wake of a petition filed by International Forum for Justice and Human Rights chairman, M Ahsan Anto. “On January 27, 1994, Army personnel of 15 Punjab Regiment killed 27 innocent persons; reason being that the shopkeepers had downed shutters of their shops on January 26 on the call of separatists. Army avenged the act by opening fire on innocents,” the petition says.
On September 2004, though police reopened the case, but the Army refused to cooperate. Police has recorded the statements of more than 15 eyewitnesses, all of whom held that troops massacred innocent people without any provocation, a police official said.
“The investigative agency made correspondences with the Army which issued a letter stating that a Court of Inquiry was already constituted to probe the incident whose final outcome was not furnished to police. The investigation of the case was closed as ‘un-traced’ on April 10, 1997 on the basis of non cooperation of Army authorities,” the CID report states.
The report further states that due to dilly-dallying approach of the Army, no requisite information was provided as the ASC 31 Med. Regiment unit claimed that no documents were lying with them. “Despite repeated reminders, the concerned Army unit failed to give any information about the case. The investigation is pending due to non-cooperation of the 31 Med regiment and 28 Infantry Division.”
Despite clear-cut directions from Chief Judicial Magistrate Kupwara to ASC 31 Med. Regiment to submit the necessary information, the concerned Army unit has not provided any information. Later, a notice U/S 25 Police Act was served to Bakshi 2nd Lieutenant 31 Med. Regiment (ASC) C/O 56 APO through GoC Northern command to appear before investigating officer of the case. “However, the Army unit did not cooperate with the investigating agency,” the CID report said.
The massacre has gone into oblivion like many other massacres as the Army escaped every investigation by the law-enforcing agencies. A few layers of dust were wiped off from the case files only after 16 years when a local rights group approached SHRC. The complainants contend that the victim families were denied justice and the guilty continue to be shielded under the premise of larger ‘national interest’.
Memories of the massacre are still fresh in the minds of people, but will the perpetrators ever be punished?