All these years, that image of 407-TATA vehicle with HVN-7717 number plate couldn’t fade from my memory. It was on this day, 28 years ago, that robbed me of my mental calm. I need pills — a plethora of them, to maintain my mental balance. Perhaps no eye-witness of that bloodbath could claim normalcy. And, if one does, the person is faking it. Before you could dismiss me a sentimental talking head, let me tell you, all I am saying is truth.
And the truth is, I saw those trigger-happy BSF men piling up human bodies on January 25, 1990 in Handwara Chowk — as if, culling the chickens. Later, India’s home minister, Mufti Sayeed turned up in Handwara — only to terrorise the terrorised, saying: “One bullet will be responded with 100 bullets!” Mufti, a Kashmiri holding the control of forces stationed in valley did prove with his utterance that his loyalty to Delhi came at the cost of lives of Kashmiris.
But days before our slayers would arrive and hunt in pack, the whole town was silently mourning after receiving devastating news from Srinagar. Each mention of what happened at Gawkadal on January 21, 1990 would fill people with deep resentment. I still remember how elders talked, lamented over the security onslaught over city:
“The city is not the same again. Forces have been licensed to kill at will”, “I heard nobody is allowed to come out of homes”, “The ruthless restrictions have even cut milk supply”, “Paramilitary forces have reduced Srinagar to a garrison”, “In old city, nobody is even turning up in mosques”, “Inside curfewed city, shoot at sight orders have been ordered…”
And when the town couldn’t take it anymore, they decided to take a peaceful procession after spreading a proper word about it beforehand. It was Thursday, January 25, when a huge procession began mobilising towards the Handwara square. Being a Class 12 student then, I too participated in it along with my friend, Shabir. The two of us had just crossed Handwara police station along with the masses, when we saw BSF men jumping from their 407- TATA vehicle (having registration number HVN-7717) with LMG mounted atop. The troopers straightaway began marching towards us.
None of us retreated. I thought, maybe, troopers have arrived to derail the march by talking tough. But within a few seconds, they proved me wrong. They turned their barrels at us, and fired indiscriminately without any warning. What ensued was a bloody chaos: cries, chase, corpses…
While running for cover, I saw my friend Shabir getting hit by bullet in his leg. He was crying in pain. Somehow he managed to get out of the firing line. As the dance of death continued, I ran inside an alley and entered a nearby house. I locked the gate inside and rushed into the room where the whole family had converged to take turns to peep through the window facing Handwara square. They were watching macabre scenes only to drive themselves insane.
Amid dread, a strange curiosity overtook me. I peeped outside, too. Inside the room, the shrieks were getting louder as bullets continued ripping apart human flesh outside. It happened so fast that I lost my mind to deconstruct the very method behind it.
Minutes before, a huge procession shouting anti-India, anti-Jagmohan slogans was clueless about the imminent peril. And who had a hunch that I would be shortly watching a group of BSF men chasing a man—cornered, shot dead. Outside that window, I froze watching troopers unloading their magazines into the body of a dead man. All I could do was – cry, cry and cry, over peoples’ helplessness. Many were collapsing, crying for help. The indiscriminate firing lasted for three hours.
Later, I heard people saying how guards of a local politician too fired upon the locals rushing inside his residence to save their lives. The slaughter stacked up 19 bodies on spot strewn across the square. Among the countless injured, six others succumbed to their bullet injuries, taking the total tally to 25.
Five days later…
The locals visited the Handwara police station to file a case against the BSF troopers. In the face of charged crowd, the cops promised a swift action. But, that “swift action” continues to elude us—even after 28 years. In the name of the case, there exists only a dead beat FIR copy No. 1990/10, mentioning nothing about innocent killings. It only carries government’s, BSF’s version: “The protestors who were in thousands assembled from villages were raising provocative slogans and stoned and torched the BSF Tata 407 carrying eatables and also set Dak Bungalow Handwara on fire…”
Even state government failed to explain the madness behind the massacre — bleeding 25 civilians to death. Though years later, the case made it to J&K State Human Rights Commission, but till date, no investigation was taken up.
But forget about justice, we weren’t even allowed to preserve our memories. You know, days after the massacre, we tried to construct a martyrs’ memorial at the carnage square. But we were brazenly denied that right — and instead, forces constructed a bunker there to our distress.
And then months after the massacre, I heard Jagmohan stressing, “The bullet is the only solution for Kashmir.” By October 1, 1990, he was no longer state governor. But his ‘bullet politics’ trailed behind. That fall, in October 1990, another BSF party went berserk in Handwara — killing 22 civilians, smoking up the whole town. Among 22 slain civilians — were a mother, and her toddler!
(Nazir is one of the survivors of Handwara massacre.)
- This article appeared first in Kashmir Life.