Wednesday, January 27, 2010

27 Kashmiris killed by armymen for observing shutdown on Jan 26

Flashback: January 27th, 1993
Courtesy: Daily Greater Kashmir dated January 27th, 2009 by Shahid Rafiq
Kupwara, Jan 26: The residents of this border district have a reason to observe shutdown on January 26.
It was on January 27, 1993 that 27 civilians fell to indiscriminate firing by the troops.
According to eye-witnesses, troops gunned down the people in Kupwara town for observing shutdown on Republic Day.
The survivors alleged that killing was to punish the people for observing shutdown on January 26.
They disclosed that a patrolling party of Punjab regiment had warned the shopkeepers on the eve of January 26 of dire consequences if they observed strike and didn’t celebrate the Republic Day.
“As the shopkeepers opened their shops on January 27, the troops opened fire from all directions killing 27 people. After the gruesome massacre, they asked us to assemble in the ground and undergo an identification parade,” said a survivor.
He said that no one was allowed to lift the bodies and take the injured to the hospital.
“A boy died in front of his father, who begged the troops to allow him to take his son to the hospital. But they didn’t pay heed to his pleas,” he revealed.
After the incident, police registered a case FIR No- 19/94 under sections 302, 307 dated 27-1-94 in police station Kupwara.
The FIR reads: “in a criminal assault, the jawans of 31 medium regiment who were on ROP (road opening duty) led by field officer S Bakhshi gunned down scores of people in indiscriminate firing in Kupwara market and its vicinity without any provocation.”
After 17 years of registration of FIR, justice to bring perpetrators of the massacre to book eludes the kin of the victims.
On Tuesday, this town observed a complete shutdown today and held a commemorative meeting at Regipora martyrs’ graveyard where people in large number prayed for peace to the departed souls.
“We demand that the case should be reopened and killers be punished,” said those who attended the meeting.
“We are waiting for the day when killers would be punished,” said Tariq Khan, one of the survivors.
MLA Kupwara Mir Saif-ullah paid his homage to the civilians martyred.
“I will seek a report from district development commissioner Kupwara about the steps of relief and rehabilitation of the sufferers of Kupwara massacre,” he told Greater Kashmir.
“I will take up the matter with top police officials and seek from them the status of the Kupwara massacre case. The perpetrators of should be brought to book,” he said.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

32 bullets, he took 'em all, to shield others from unrelenting guns of Indian armymen

Courtesy: Daily Rising Kashmir dated January 21st, 2009 by Baba Umar
Srinagar, Jan 20: It was the morning of January 21, 1990. The sun came up without much sparkle but it shone on young Rauf’s face for the last time. For, by noon, he was lying on the ground in his favourite blue jacket and green shoes, his body pierced by a hail of troopers’ bullets.

And, two decades later, his family and those who saw him getting killed along with 52 other peaceful protesters in Kashmir’s first massacre since the armed rebellion broke out in 1989 against the Indian rule, try to look back on the event that gave birth to a generation of angry youngmen. A violent uprising and a separatist sentiment never seen before in Kashmir.

On that fateful morning, Abdur Rauf Wani (24) and his father G A Wani, a government employee, watched from the window a huge but peaceful procession passing through Maharaja Bazar, trigerred by the news of molestation of women in the old city, strict curfews and restrictions.

It was also just a day after New Delhi appointed Jagmohan as J-K Governor in a bid to control mass protests by Kashmiris.
In the street below, men in thousands raised their fists, with slogans ‘Hum Kya Chahte... Azadi’ (We Want Freedom) renting the air. Nothing unusual, as people had grown used to these reminders. But Rauf, unable to contain the surge of emotions within, turned to his father and what followed was a little "more unusual".

“Bauji, this’ll be now begairti (disgrace), should we not join now,” Zulehama Banday, Rauf’s older sister recalls his brother’s conversation with dad.
The senior Wani looked back, waited for a moment and then nodded his head. “Should I go,” Rauf again insisted. “Yes,” his father replied.

Zulehama says it was the first time that the family had okayed Rouf's request to join the peaceful protests. Rauf was soon away, smashing a flower vase in hurry. He stumbled but got up immediately. He performed ablutions, fixed the shoe laces, adjusted his jeans and slid both arms in the blue jacket that he had slung on his right shoulder till then.

Onto the road. “A neighbour tried to stop him but he wouldn’t,” recalls Zulehama, who by now had joined her father at the window to see Rauf disappear in a swarm of youngmen.

The long strip of rally that begun from Jawahar Nagar and Ikhrajpora, Rajbagh to reach Budshah Chowk. Earlier proposed to stopover outside UNO at Sonawar, people in the front decided to drum up more support from inner city. The crowd swerved towards Maisuma that would lead demonstrators to inner city till it reached Gaw Kadal Bridge over the Jhelum.
When the front-liners of crowd was halfway across the Gaw Kadal, the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) opened fire with automatic machine guns from three directions. In the next few minutes, the bridge with littered with corpses and blood. The first day of Governor Jagmohan’s rule would pass in the bloodshed.

Muhammad Altaf Qureshi (50) remembers how the march was stopped with automatic machine guns and how a fearless youngman braved bullets from an unremitting gun nozzle.
“Without any provocation and warning, they fired on us,” he recalls. Qureshi, who was in the third row, says the sounds of unrelenting gunfire triggered astampede on the wooden bridge. The charge pushed him on the deck and soon blood-stained bodies were dotting the spot. Whosoever tried to stand on his legs would be fired upon.

In this melee of bullets and screams, Qureshi noticed a youngman getting up, pushing aside with his hands both the dead and alive. “A trooper was showering bullets from a short distance and this youngman shielded people by blocking troopers’ view,” Qureshi recalls. “He took all the bullets on his chest.”

The youngster was none other than Rauf. Troopers with faces masked had emptied their carbines by puncturing Rauf’s abdomen and chest. The act of bravery saved scores from getting killed. Rauf finally collapsed, his face upwards; blood painting his blue jacket and green shoes with red.

Qureshi watched silently. He was motionless. The crowd had dispersed. "Mayhem, Massacre, God" were the cries he heard from the receding crowd. While on the bridge, troops were leaping on the corpses, kicking survivors and finishing them off. Qureshi pretended dead, hiding his face under someone’s blood-splattered torso.

“I preferred to lie with the bodies, knowing for sure I will be shot if I stirred. I closed my eyes and remembered Allah and recited Kalima without letting a sound come out,” he recalls. Then the image of his
three-month-old daughter flashed in his mind. He soon heard policemen speak in Kashmiri, shouting loud if someone was alive.

“For a while I pretended dead,” he says.
As if mere sack of flesh, blood and bones, the scene had deadened his body. He was picked up by a cop of J&K Police who inquired if he was alright. He saw policemen heave the bodies into a truck, over a tarpaulin and disappear from the spot.

“I was taken to a nearby fire station, from where I called up my home. They were waiting for my corpse after a friend and survivor told them about the massacre,” recalls Qureshi.

The news travelled to home faster than the body of Rauf. Zulehama, the other siblings and father panicked. Rauf had wished martyrdom when a funeral procession passed by the family’s house months back. Zulehama watched their elder brother Parvez Wani readying for Police Control Room (PCR), Batamaloo, where the injured and dead were taken.

At PCR gate Parvez struggled hard to enter the premises, as relatives of victims had already started to pour in. Back home, Rauf’s father was restless. He had allowed his son join the peaceful march. A sense of guilt had overtaken him. Others in the family were crying and consoling each other, assuming Rauf might have swum the river below the wooden bridge. Or he must have stayed at someone’s house.
“We were not sure, however,” Zulehama says.

But at PCR, Parvez was face-to-face with reality: he was handed the bullet-ridden body of his brother. Thirtytwo holes, he counted, had punctured Rauf - the highest number of bullets fired on anyone in the rally. “And when the body reached our home…everyone……” Zulehama is unable to continue.

It was not for the first time that he had risked his life to save others. In 1984, Rauf risked his life to save a Sikh laborer who was shot on head while he was lacing his shoes in the street. Family members say that the labourer had cried for help, and when others in the neighbourhood shut their doors and windows, Rauf rushed out and took him to the nearby hospital.

“He was 18 then,” Zulehama says. Three years later, in 1987, Rauf along with hundreds of youth was dragged to jail for supporting a political party Muslim United Front (MUF). Rauf was bundled into the notorious PAPA-2 interrogation chamber for 21 days.

Zulehama also remembers how young Rauf would shift a mound of sand outside a neighbour’s house making way for guests during a marriage.

Rauf was laid to rest at a graveyard in Sarai Bala, besides Dastageer Sahib Shrine. Soon after, the family sold their property and moved to another locality. And in 2006, Rauf was posthumously honoured with Robert Thorpe award.

Zulehama knows police had registered a case which was, however, closed in 2005 and those involved in Kashmir’s first massacre were declared untraceable.
But when I ask her what does she think and if she wants the case reopened, her silence is coupled with soaked eyes. For a moment she speaks nothing. Then she says: "Yes. It must be.

“When I think of my brother,” she says, “the thoughts are not just of the wonderful time we shared. It is of the brutal way in which he was killed, the irrationality of the act, and ultimately, the offenders and the Indian justice system."

Friday, January 8, 2010

‘Atrocities in 2008 protests pushed Manzoor to militancy’

Courtesy; Daily Rising Kashmir dated Jan. 9th, 2010 by Asem Mohiuddin
Sopore, Jan 08: The family members of a Sopore youth Manzoor alias Usmaan, who died in a 22-hour long gunfight in Lal Chowk yesterday, alleged that the highhandedness committed by the troopers during the 2008 Amarnath land row agitation prompted him to join the militant ranks.

Manzoor along with another militant was killed in the Lal Chowk encounter. His body was brought to his home town - Peth Seer, Sopore on late Thursday night. Later, hundreds of people attended his Nimaz-e-Jinaza amidst pro-freedom, pro-Islamic and anti-India slogans.
Manzoor’s family claims that he joined militant outfit-Lashker-e-Toiba, one and a half year ago when the valley was up in flames during Amarnath land row agitation.
“He was class 9th drop out and worked as a painter to sustain his poor family. During the 2008 Amarnath Land row agitation, he alongwith hundreds of people of the area participated in the protest demonstrations to express resentment over the transfer of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. On August 11, 2008, he joined the “Muzafarabad Chalo march” and saw the troopers firing on unarmed protestors, beating women and children,” said Manzoor’s uncle, Mohammad Akbar.
He said the highhandedness and excesses committed by the troopers changed his mind-set and prompted him to join the militant ranks.
His father, Ghulam Rasool said Manzoor used to frequently talk about the excesses committed by the troopers during the “Muzafarabad Chalo March”.
“Manzoor used to offer five-time prayers and recite Holy Quran daily in the morning. One the second day of Ramdan he told us that he will join Tableegi Jamaat for some time. We allowed him for the sake of his happiness. However, I was aware about his intentions as his mindset has changed radically after Muzaffarabad March. After leaving home, he never returned. He had joined Lashkar-e-Toiba and we saw him with an AK-47 rifle after six months when he came to meet us,” said Ghulam Rasool.
He said owing to intense pressure from security and intelligence agencies, they had urged Manzoor to surrender and live a normal life but of no avail. “The security agencies harassed me and my family members after Manzoor’s refusal to surrender,” said father of the slain youth.
Manzoor’s mother Hafiza Begum, said she had a firm belief that her son is a martyr. “The death is inevitable but my son died too young. He was only 21 years old. It was the time when he could have enjoyed his life but alas he preferred death,” she mourns.
The family said that they saw Manzoor two days before his death. “Two days before his death he came to home and met all family members and had a cup of tea. He refused to stay for a longer duration and told us that he has some urgent work and had to leave the place as soon as possible,” said his grandfather, Ali Mohammad.
He said on Wednesday evening security forces came to their residence and informed them that Manzoor was trapped in an encounter in Lal Chowk. “They asked us for his contact number and told us that they will let us talk to him,” added grandpa of slain militant.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jan 6, ’93, BSF massacred 55 civilians, burnt 300 houses in Sopur

Courtesy Daily Greater Kashmir dated Jan., 6th, 2010 by UMER MAQBOOL DAR
Sopur, Jan 5: Seventeen years after the Sopur massacre, justice eludes the residents of this apple town as perpetrators of the carnage have not been punished and the case is still ‘under investigation’ with the Central Bureau of Investigation.
On January 6, 1993, the paramilitary Border Security Force personnel murdered 55 civilians and torched more than 300 houses and shops in retaliation to the killing of their colleague.
Eyewitnesses told Greater Kashmir that in the morning on the fateful day, militants killed a BSF trooper and fled with his rifle. “Within minutes dozens of BSF personnel descended on the market and cordoned off the area. They resorted to indiscriminate firing on civilians,” they said.
Recalling the fateful day, the President of Traders Federation Sopur, Ghulam Nabi Khan, says that naked dance of death and destruction was unleashed by the BSF men for hours here.
“They were raining bullets on men, women and children at random. They herded civilians in shops and houses, splashed kerosene over their bodies and roasted them alive,” he says adding that the soldiers didn’t even spare the kids.
“They threw a child in fire before killing his mother. They sprinkled gunpowder on a bus coming from Bandipora and torched alive its passengers,” he added.
A local resident, Muhammad Shaban Bhat, said his brother-in-law Ghulam Nabi tried to help the injured and retrieve the bodies from the market but was also shot dead by troopers.
“Braving bullets, he brought 11 bodies and then was shot too,” Bhat said.
Following the massacre, the residents registered FIR against 94 battalion of BSF accusing them of firing on civilians without provocation. The troopers also registered an FIR against unidentified militants stating that civilians were killed in cross-firing.
President of Sopur Bar Association, Muhammad Maqbool Mir, said that killer troopers involved in the gruesome incident were not punished till date.
“Neither the case witnessed progress nor the men involved were punished or charge-sheeted,” he said.
An official of Sopur Police Station told Greater Kashmir that the case was being investigated by CBI. “The case is pending with CBI,” he said.
The massacre evoked international attention and dominated headlines in several leading newspapers and magazines of the world.
“The incident is one of the worst atrocities by Indian paramilitary forces in their attempt over the past three years to crush an uprising by Muslim militants in Kashmir,” read the Independent.
Talking to Greater Kashmir over phone, CBI spokesperson Harsh Bhal said that case was under investigation.

“Perhaps there is special corner in hell reserved for soldiers who fire their weapons indiscriminately into a crowd of unarmed civilians. That, at least, must have been the hope of every resident who defied an army-enforced curfew in the Kashmiri town of Sopore last Thursday to protest a massacre that left 55 people dead and scores injured. It was India’s latest blow in a three-year campaign to crush the predominantly Muslim state’s bid for independence. In retaliation for the killing of one soldier, paramilitary forces rampaged through Sopore market setting buildings ablaze and shooting bystanders.”

Jan 6, 1993: Sopore Arson

17 yrs on, victims still await compensation
Courtesy Daily Rising Kashmir by Asem Mohiuddin
Sopore, Jan 05: While the Apple Town is all set to remember the carnage of January 6, 1993 at the hands of Border Security Force, the victims are yet to be compensated against the loss of life and property in the 17-year-old tragedy.

This despite the 'self-fought' legal battle by the victims to the very doorsteps of the then Commission set up by New Delhi to probe the incident and ascertain the actual cause, amid contradictory versions.
A victim of the 1993 arson, while pleading anonymity, said the town reeled under immense pressure in the aftermath of carnage. When the victims attempted to seek compensation from the government, the move was highly politicized. “Some people sent wrong interpretations to New Delhi, saying the incident was a result of gas cylinder burst. Even the then State Congress president Ghulam Rasool Kar had the same to say to the media. On the other hand, the militant outfits warned people not to take any compensation from the government."
Finally the victims constituted an 18-member delegation and decided to fight the legal battle on their own. Even though Kar assured support to the victims in seeking compensation, the delegation - annoyed with his remarks - snubbed him. “The delegation met to decide the future course of action. Kar came to join the meeting but we told him to leave the room, and he left,” said a member of the delegation.
Saying the formation of delegation was mandatory to change the wrong notion of New Delhi, the member said they met the Commission formed by New Delhi on January 8 to assess the loss and recommend compensation. However, they refused to participate in the inquiry committee formed by the BSF. “We met the Commission lead by then Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Makhan Lal Pada under heavy deployment of forces, only with the intention to change the wrong notion given to New Delhi and spell the truth. We gave them the actual account of the carnage. In the end the wrong interpretation that the incident took place due to gas cylinder burst was ultimately cleared and the Commissions returned satisfied with our claim,” he said.
Nooruddin Dandh, then assistant commissioner and member victims' delegation, said only 25 percent victims were compensated for insurance, that too the principal amount only.
He said the insurance companies first refused to compensate after seeing the magnitude of tragedy. He said the shopkeepers then sought compensation through court and when the consumer court gave decision in favor of shopkeepers, the companies moved to High Court, where both parties compromised due to some compulsions.
“The companies were intended to move to Supreme Court in case of their failure in HC, which could have been tough for us to continue the legal battle. So we decided to compromise and the companies paid the principle amount, approximately Rs three crore,” Dandh said.
He, however, praised then finance minister Manmohan Singh, whom the delegation met in New Delhi. "We met Singh in New Delhi who was addressed wrongly about the incident. He assured us full support and told that the matter would be sorted out in four days and he did live upto his promise,” Dandh said. But, according to him, the government refused to pay any compensation to the victims who had no insurance policies.
“We requested government for interest-free loan for five years so that the people who lost their property will have a new beginning, but they refused,” Dandh said.
In fact the denizens of township consider the 1993 arson as the worst chapter of their bloodied history in last twenty years of insurgency. The town has been observing complete shutdown on this particular day for 17 consecutive years. According to locals, around 350 shops and residential houses in the main chowk were set ablaze by troops, besides dozens of people being roasted alive.
“How can I forget the dreadful day, when troops went berserk and stormed aboard the passenger bus coming from Bandipora. They snatched a three-year old child from the mother seated in the bus and threw it into fire. The troops also killed the lady, besides several other passengers. I never witnessed anything like that and the incident will haunt me my entire life,” said president of Sopore Traders' Federation, Ghulam Nabi Khan.
Khan said the screams of the child engulfed by the flames still echoed in his mind, freezing his blood.
Kutub Alam, shopkeeper in the main chowk and witness to the horrifying episode, claims the troops blocked all entry and exit points of the area before setting it ablaze. “It all started early in the morning when militants ambushed the patrol party of BSF near the area police station and gunned down one trooper and snatched his weapon. As soon the news spread, the bunker located in the premises of Fire and Emergency Services near the State Bank of India resorted to indiscriminate firing. The other hundreds of bunkers present in the town followed suit and the heavy gunfire continued for two hours.
In the meantime, the troops entered the nearby Islamia College and sprinkled gun powder on the building; also on the residential houses and shops in the area and set them ablaze,” Kutub reminisced.
Mohammad Shafi lost his brother in the mayhem and claimed that the latter died while trying to save a man injured in the firing. “It was like a doomsday for me. When my brother came out of his shop and lifted the injured man in his arms for help, the troops resorted to heavy firing and killed him on spot. The fear created by the troops didn’t let me collect the body of my brother and I recovered only his half-burnt skeleton next day,” Shafi said.