Wednesday, January 6, 2010

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.

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