October 22 marks the 28th year of the Bijbehara massacre when at least 43 civilians were killed in cold blood after the Border Security Forces (BSF) troops opened indiscriminate fire against the protesting civilians.
On the eighth day of the Indian military siege on Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar, the people assembled on the main road in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town after the Friday prayers to protest against it when the troops from the 74th battalion of the BSF abruptly opened fire without any provocation.
The local Kashmiri media has reported a toll of 43 people; Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its 2006 report, mentioned that at least 37 people were killed in the incident.
Of the 43 slain persons, 25 were young students whose final resting place became the same park where they would often spend hours playing together.
Abdul Rasheed Waza, a local who lost his nephew Javaid Ahmad in the massacre, said, “No space was left in the local graveyard as well as the martyrs’ graveyard, so we buried them in the same public park they used to play.”
Also, more than 200 people were injured in the firing that day, several of whom were disabled for life.
“The incident was gruesome, bodies were scattered everywhere, and the shoes of dead and injured floated in the blood flowing on the road. The injured were shifted to hospitals in handcarts,” recounts a survivor.
A magisterial inquiry ordered by the government in Indian Occupied Kashmir indicated that “there was no armed person in the peaceful procession and the statement of BSF given on the massacre after the incident was baseless and concocted.”
Kashmiris see such inquiries as escapism and ‘eyewash’ due to their experiences in earlier cases of massacres and killings, including the Sopore carnage, which took place in Jan 1993.
What prompted BSF to fire indiscriminately?
The account of survivors and eyewitnesses enunciate that the procession was marching peacefully and demanding an end to the military siege of Hazratbal Mosque. BSF commandant JK Radola fired the first shot without any provocation, and his fellow troops who had cornered the procession fired indiscriminately, making the escape impossible.
The claim of BSF that a party of theirs was attacked and fired in retaliation has been rubbished by the Enquiry Magistrate’s report, which states that “The security personnel have committed [the] offence out of vengeance and their barbarous act was deliberate and well planned”.
The senior officials of the state government who visited the town in the aftermath of the massacre expressed profound shock over the discriminate firing by BSF troops.
According to Kashmir Times, former divisional commissioner Kashmir, Mr Wajahat Habibullah, admitted that “the protestors did not attack the BSF party.”
28 years passed, Justice still awaited
Twenty-eight years have passed since the Indian Occupational Forces perpetrated the Bijbehara massacre; however, no one involved in the carnage was convicted or tried.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on November 1, 1993, sent notices to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) asking for reports on the incident. The MHA sent a report to NHRC, which was based on the magisterial enquiry.
Another report based on the BSF’s court of inquiry claimed that disciplinary proceedings were initiated against 14 alleged perpetrators. Furthermore, the commission recommended that a simultaneous prosecution should be initiated based on the magisterial inquiry.
NHRC also made recommendations of paying ‘interim immediate compensation’ to the victims’ families and that the state government should review the deployment and operational procedure of BSF when dealing with situations involving civilians.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee led Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) government refused to facilitate the trial transcripts and did not positively respond to the recommendations made by NHRC.
A K Tandon, the former director-general of BSF, informed NHRC that General Security Force Court had conducted a nonpublic trial that acquitted the accused men in 1996. Multiple attempts were made by NHRC to review the court files but were constantly denied access, and in its annual report (1998–99), NHRC noted that it was ‘deeply disturbed.
NHRC, in February 1999, moved to the Supreme Court and filed a writ to seek the records related to the court-martial trial of the 14 alleged perpetrators. However, due to the intimidation by the central government, NHRC quietly withdrew the petition as the government’s stand was that owing to the grounds of national security, the records could not be made public.