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January 6, 1993 – A Town Torched: Remembering the Sopore Massacre Twenty Years After: Sameer Bhat

January 6, 2013

Guest post by SAMEER BHAT

In Memory of the Massacre in Sopore, Kashmir, by the 94th Battalion of the Border Security Force on January 6, 1993.

[YouTube Video - Compiled from various sources - including a report by Savyasachi Jain, now with NDTV, for Eyewitness - a VHS delivered video news magazine active in the early 1990s.]

There was sound of a huge bang that morning, like someone blowing up a cartful of dynamite. Just before the cockcrow. Most of the townspeople were asleep. The dawn prayers had thin attendance, mostly because it gets very cold in January. By nine o’clock a military patrol was out, doing rounds of the main marketplace. Suddenly gunmen emerged from a narrow alley and shot random bullets at the party before quickly disappearing in the maze that old Sopore is. Taken rather off guard, the security detail ran back to their barracks only to emerge again as Frankenstein’s monsters, spitting hell fire. In the next fifty odd minutes, they murdered fifty five people in cold blood. And burnt the town down.

Even after all these years nobody knows for sure what transformed the BSF party into the heartless creatures that they became — that cold January morning. Hapless people, trapped in flames, had only two choices to make and both, it turned out, cost them dearly. Stepping out of their shops meant getting bumped off on the spot. Those who hid in their shops were roasted alive. Many people who were killed on January 6, 1993, were buried without their families being able to see them one last time. The dead bodies had faces — that smiled, loved and beamed a few hours back — too disfigured to be kissed a final good bye. Monsters seldom heed tears.

An unfortunate bus, half-full with passengers, on its way to Sopore got caught up in the frenzy. The driver, oblivious to the savagery of the 94th battalion BSF, was flagged down. Soon charcoal gray powder blew into the vehicle. Terrified passengers froze in their seats, their hands still inside their Pherans. A stash of gunfire lit the bus up. The ill-starred men and women banged at the window-panes, begging to be let out, but their screams met no saviors. The nearby shops were burning in maroon fire with real people in them. A hundred thousand books in the local women’s college were turning to dark dust in the library. The foot soldiers of the world’s largest democracy looked on with a ghoulish glee.

Entire families were wiped out on that January morning 19 years back. A respected Sufi Pir lost six members of his immediate and extended family. His two grandsons, two nephews and two cousins. The old man was unwell in his bed when news of the doom came. Women began to pull their hair out and grown-up men wept inconsolably in his mud-and-brick three storey home, often frequented by devotees. Later when the corpses of all the six young men were lined up in the lawn, someone asked the Sufi if he wanted to come out and have a last look at the lads. ‘Oh yes’, the old man said and as someone walked him outside he whispered in the most feeble voice, ‘I had a dream last night and they told me that we shall take you to hear things I never imagined. I think this is the Taebeer’.

I feel somewhat uneasy writing this, recalling mostly from memory, from the pastiches of ugly nightmares of growing up in Kashmir of the 90’s. Ofcourse I was too young to comprehend how people in flesh and blood could get so godawful and burn fellow humans alive. It smelled of fear and flesh. We heard the wails coming from a distance. That evening the smoke’s twist was awfully slow.

In memoriam

To my fellow townspeople,

cut to merciless death on January 6, 1993.

We remember you.

Sameer Bhat is an assistant Editor at Khaleej Times

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Alok Shukla permalink
    January 6, 2013 1:50 AM

    “Suddenly gunmen emerged from a narrow alley and shot random bullets at the party before quickly disappearing in the maze that old Sopore is”

    This single line is enough to see the heartless politicization of this tragedy. “Gunmen” is the word used to describe terrorists/militants. And this is pervasive through Kashmir media reporting.

    Since 1996, When I started paying attention to Kashmir, I was a die hard supporter of their struggle but after 10 gradually drifted apart and had a neutral position. Reading Kashmiri newspapers every day first thing in the morning since last 13 years, while it was clear that India had failed miserably in Kashmir, there was a deliberate and strong Islamic chauvinism and supremacist thought behind every logic, report and narrative. Almost all of the conversations with Kashmiris, it was evident that at the core of everything muslims could not live with hindu for their struggle for independence.

    Since then I have remained conflicted, How do you support a people’s movement whose core is built on exclusivist, chauvenistic agenda of refusal to co-exist in a hindu majority state? What is the difference in them, thackreys, owaisis etc?

    • January 8, 2013 1:43 PM

      May the Nationalism be ruined which makes people so inhuman and insensitive that they support the burning of women and children. People like you are as much cruel as the BSF terrorists who carried out this barbaric massacre.

      What the hell are you talking about anyway. Why should Kashmiris live under India’s Occupation. Would you like to live under Pakistan’s occupation. No, right ? Will you blame yourself for not being ready to co-exist with Muslims ? Kashmir’s matter is altogether different than rest of the Indian muslims because India occupied it by way of force and so much presence of Indian army on the streets of Kashmir is the biggest evidence of this fact. A tourist can come to Kashmir from rest of India and could roam around freely till 10 or 11 in night but a Kashmiri in his own land can not move out after 6 PM. Where there is Army on every street to ask you humiliating questions and kill you on slight protest. Is this the freedom which any human being would like to have where you are ripped of your human dignity and honor everyday. You are humiliated, beaten, tortured, raped and killed and no one is questioned for atrocities against you, rather they are awarded. Kashmiris have every right for freedom from Indian occupation like Indians had against british. Gandhi and Nehru asserted that right politically while Bhagat Singh and Subhadh Chandra Bose asserted that in the militant style. But you respect both as freedom fighters, and perhaps respect latter more than the former. Why should kashimiris not be called freedom fighters for taking weapons in hands for fighting against the occupying Indian military ?

      And what did you say, co-exist with Hindu majority? Like muslims of rest of India are living ! The pathetic life of slavery which is worst than an animal’s life. Where you have no honor and no security ? Anyone could abuse you, mock you and if you resist, attack and kill you, rape your women and burn you and your kids alive and get rewarded rather than being punished for their crimes, no matter how grave they might be? Where mosques are demolished and demolishers become Prime minister and Home minister. Where there are Mumbai, Gujrat, Assam and countless more massacres of muslims and in the end its muslims only who are punished and jailed. Where new records are made of unprecedented barbarism in history and the men eating predators who unleashes all this are given State Funerals and are being supported to be the Prime minister of India and as a muslim living in India you can do nothing about it. Muslims are living in every part of India without any separatism even though their lives are being made more and more miserable every passing day by the Hindu’s hateful aggression which makes every injustice against muslims, justified.

      Of course, Kashmiris don’t want that kind of helpless existence because like people who made Pakistan, and now even Indian Muslims, they also very well know that Hindus (as a community, not every individual) and their hatred for muslims is “INCORRIGIBLE”.

      • Alok Shukla permalink
        January 9, 2013 12:38 PM

        Thanks for making my entire case! Only one suggestion – stop being patronising about out understanding of our understanding of Kashmiri Muslims. we understand the entire situation and we have formed an opinion. You cannot tell me that I am a Hindu, stereotype my democratic beliefs, stereotype my thoughts, tell me how should I think and expect me have view exactly the way you want. Many Kashmiris like the support of Indians in a prescribed format! Nothing more, nothing less. That is fascism under the garb of the romantic notion of freedom.I remain conflicted with both the Indian state and Kashmiris.

  2. Parvaiz permalink
    January 6, 2013 8:53 AM

    Pain, pain all the way…..very painful read Sameer. History never forgives and keeps reminiscing…You move on but the pain is there deep down only to surface at the slightest of the stimuli. The blog above is just one.

    • January 6, 2013 2:11 PM

      History is full of such instances. Like when Guru Govind Singh was buried alive and his two young sons slaughtered. But people move on. Wonder though, is there any cut-off date or era for discussions on atrocities, such that we can talk about only those that happened after such a date. Its worth remembering that we all have blood on our hands. It doesn’t justify any of it but helps perspectivity.

      • Nazia permalink
        January 6, 2013 10:50 PM

        Those who committed the Sopore massacre are alive, got promotions, and they are a product of the ideological moorings that underlie the Indian State. Mughals are long gone. By your logic, one could justify anything; you just have to invoke a Changez, a Hitler, a Modi, a Patel…

  3. Hargopal Singh permalink
    January 6, 2013 9:10 AM

    There is a long list of such massacres in our country.One may even miss the count of them.Let us forget pre-independence era.Even if we start from partition the number of such massacres is eye-opening.There is still no guarantee that there will be an end to them.Nobody knows how to put a stop to them.The perpetrators and instigators of such massacres are roaming free.There is no evidence till now that they will be ever punished.Still it is Bharat Mera Mahan.

  4. Rohit Negi permalink
    January 6, 2013 5:57 PM

    Its a particularly shameful episode in a long, unending saga. the author asks ‘what transformed the BSF party into the heartless creatures that they became?’ One cannot say for sure, perhaps their own fears, repressed traumas, and the lens through which they viewed/continue to view all Kashmiris as enemies.

  5. reny ayline permalink
    January 6, 2013 7:01 PM

    down down ‘state terrorism ‘

  6. Vandana permalink
    January 7, 2013 6:56 PM

    Very conflicting for both sides. Such wonderful people live in Kashmir. Just like your and my families, hindus and muslims alike.
    But the word terrorist strikes terror on both sides. Unconventional war has no conventional solutions.
    Unless the local community knows how to defend themselves, how could any village/city in the world, say “No” to a gunman demanding them to give up what they have: food, shelter, clothing…even women? OR tell the person in uniform that there is someone hiding in their house?

    When the “gunmen” hiding in the village, must have suddenly attacked the patrol, the battalion must have had intructions to capture the terror strikers who used village resources at gun-point (food, shelter, and sadly, women).
    Since the patrol couldnt find them, they must torched the village to smoke the terror strikers out of hiding.
    Which ofcourse is hardest on the locals, because no one chooses to hide the bad guys. The armed forces have a job to protect locals and country. And, the solution is not good for both sides because the simple people in the middle get hurt the worst.
    The fighters on both sides are “following instructions” and after several months of action start getting jumpy about the mean actions of the other side.
    Who is to be blamed? The person who fired the first shot?
    My heart goes to the simple families who welcomed any visitor with a smile…or later, with fear.

    • Burhan permalink
      January 6, 2014 6:07 PM

      Do you write fiction??

  7. January 10, 2013 12:12 PM

    what happened with the judicial enquiry? Was justice even ‘mildly’ served?

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