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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sopore, Jan 6, 1993: when Indian border guards massacred a town

It was a cataclysm, that appears to have been well planned, in which the North Kashmir town— Sopore— was torched by the Border Security Forces on this day in 1993. Over the years as new narratives emerge on anniversary it is becoming more and more clear that the massacre in which fifty three people were killed was not a reaction to the attack by militants but one among the many strategies to instill fear in the Kashmir mind. It was a cold morning, on this day, in 1993, Sopore town had woken unaware of the brutality that would leave an undeniable mark on the Kashmir memory. It particularly was a dark day that continues to cast its shadow. That day in the morning, a trooper of BSF 94 Battalion was killed in an ambush of armed militants near Baba Yusuf Gali, while another was injured. The militants also snatched their rifles. Following the incident, BSF men went berserk, they went on ‘killing spree’, and painted the town red.

Wearing a blue closed cloak, Rafiqa is sitting quietly in a room of her newly constructed house. It seems she is in deep thought and remembrance. Rafiqa’s husband Ghulam Rasool Hajam, who was a barber, went as usual to his shop located near a water tank on the tehsil road. Rafiqa remembers: “On that day as usual he left for work. After some time we heard that there was firing followed by burning incident.” There was an awkward silence. Then tears rolled down here eyes. She wiped them with her white veil, sighed. In a space of moments it seemed as if decades had passed. 

Her forlorn face said more than her words. “BSF men charred him to death after setting his shop ablaze,” she says. Rasool had three daughters and a lone son. At the time of his death, his eldest daughter, Razia, was studying in 3rd standard. The only remorse of his children is they couldn’t see their dead father. His body had charred beyond recognition.  “He was not brought here. He was charred,” says Rafiqa, adding, “We never saw him.” 

But Rafiqa braved the situation, despite facing ‘enormous’ difficulties. She provided education to her children. All was going well now in the life for Rafiqa and her children, but Rameez, 18, her lone son died in a road accident in 2011. Rafiqa says: “Now all was going well, but after Rameez died, I am alone. I am completely down now.” A witness of the ‘carnage’, Abdullah, who once owned a shop in Main Square says, “A day before massacre, one BSF officer had threatened me and another shopkeeper.” While quoting the officer, he says: “We will burn and kill you all very soon.” 

But Abdullah was fortunate as he had not opened his shop on the day of massacre. But his friend and fellow shopkeeper who was also threatened was burnt in his shop. Mehbooba, despite being a woman, runs a bakery shop in the town from past two decades. Circumstance that unfolded after the massacre forced her to take the role. Mehbooba, while remembering the day, says: “My husband Ghulam Nabi and I were having tea. Suddenly we heard bullets shots. He went outside to check what was happening.” As Nabi left, he witnessed the bloodbath and the market was on fire. “He was timid and always preferred to stay away from these things,” she says. But on that day, Nabi wasn’t himself. His wife says, 

“He was carrying bodies of dead to martyrs graveyard.” Abdul Rashid, who owns a hardware shop next to the bakery, says, “While carrying bodies, Nabi was chanting slogans.” But, Nabi was unaware that soon someone will be carrying his body. Mehbooba remembers, “He didn’t come back after an hour and in the meantime my cousin came,” adding, “he was wailing and beating his chest and face.” 

She was unable to understand the reason behind the dirges. She says, “When I asked the reason, my cousin replied that Nabi has been shot by forces.” “It was hard to believe as he was with me before some time,” says Mehbooba.

The one, who was carrying bodies, was now himself carried to the graveyard. Like Rafiqa, whose husband was burnt to death by BSF, Mehbooba also braved the situation and moved on, but the scars are still visible on her face. In the congested Shallapora, many refer term it as the‘hub’ of armed militants, the Shalla family is remembering four of their men who were brutally killed. A gate opens to many houses. The deaths stills resurrect the fear. On the day of ‘carnage’, they lost their four members. 

The youngest was Muhammad Ashraf Shalla, 15, who was a student of 8th standard. The other three were Ghulam Rasool Shalla, Sajad Ahmad Shalla, and Bashir Ahmad Shalla. 

Narrating the incident, Muhammad Shafi Shalla said, “We had fruit business. On 5th January 1993, our fruit laden truck had got stuck in a drain, where a BSF man was shot on the next day. We left it, and on 6th of January, when massacre took place, went inside the truck to get it out. At 9:00, bullets were fired by rebels, resulting in the death of BSF man,” adding “this was the start. After the incident, they started shooting everyone.” The four members of Shalla family took refuge in a nearby shop. But, BSF men, who were on ‘killing spree’, barged in the shop and showered bullets on them, resulting in on-spot death. While Shafi was narrating the story of bloodbath, his elder brother entered the room. 

He quoted the BSF men, saying: “Jo Jaha Hai Jala Do – Aag Lagado,” Wherever, whosoever is, burn him’. “The driver of the truck, was first shot and then burnt by BSF men,” Bashir Ahmad says. The businessmen, whose shops were gutted, on that day say, “We cannot forget those flames, the sound of bullets and the defaced human bodies, who were burnt in shops, the bus, which was shot and burnt by BSF men and the screams of people in that bus.” Abdul Hameed, who owns a tea stall in Main Square, is among the survivors.

 Although BSF men went twice to kill him and other people, who were with him, but on both occasions they survived. His shop was also gutted. “We were crying; we were frightened. We were counting last moments of our lives,” he says, adding, “we ran into second floor of that building and took shelter there.” While directing towards a building opposite to the lane, he narrates in loud voice, 

“They (BSF) firing bullets, they were violent. I was watching, but we were frightened. There were more than a dozen people in that room, where were hiding.” While attending his customers, he says, “An armored vehicle of BSF arrived. They were carrying glass bottles. I don’t know what was in them, but it looked like wine,” adding “they went into a cloth shop and started throwing it on the cloth.” “This was the beginning,” he shouts. 

After the ‘Apple Town’ was burnt to ashes along with nearly 53 civilians, Hameed came out of the building, and saw the destruction and carnage. “Nothing was left, everything was dark. The bodies were burnt. At one place there was a leg, while at another – there was an arm. I myself collected a leg of a person, who was burnt in a shop.”

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