Photograph by senior journalist Mehrajuddin taken on the second day of Bijbehara massacre. It was the only photograph that Mehrajuddin found in his camera as Army tampered with camera rolls of the photojournalists on that day
Oct 22 1993 Bijbehara Massacre: When Army even didn't spare senior Journalists
Anantnag: It was autumn, the soft chilly winds were disturbing the soundless gloomy atmosphere. Over two dozen reputed journalists from India and abroad were thrashed and forced to make a queue to take dictation from an Indian Army officer posted in volatile Kashmir Valley. The location was Bijbehara, a town located in South Kashmir’s Anantnag (Islamabad) district and these journalists had converged there to record the gory massacre of civilian protesters that had taken place a day before (October 22, 1993).
A day after these journalists arrived in the town, Indian Border Security Force personnel from 74 Battalion had butchered 51 civilians. Among those killed, 25 were students. The park in which these students used to play became their graveyard.
Reyaz Ahmed Ganai, a native of main town Bijbehara was 13 years old then. He was part of the procession on which India armed forces showered bullets randomly. It still gives goose bumps to him when he narrates the episode.
“Thousands of people marched that Friday against the Hazratbal Siege in Bijbehara town. Amid pro-freedom slogans, the protesters marched through the lanes and bye-lanes of the town while ironically Indian troopers didn’t stop us and we were allowed to hit to Srinagar-Jammu highway. We had never imagined in our dreams that those troopers who paved way for us and allowed us to proceed will pounce upon us and will play a deadly game,” says Reyaz who completed his Doctorate from Pondichery University.
“Young, old and children were part of procession. It was peaceful but suddenly BSF personnel pressed their triggers and pumped bullets into the chests and heads of protesters. With naked eyes I witnessed people getting shot and blood oozing out from their bodies.”
“I feel scared when I remember those tense moments. Bullets pierced into my belly, chest and hands. I was flat on the ground and my intestines were out. Somehow, I mustered courage and put those intestines back into body. I still remember, one of my neighbors’ Gulab Khan lifted me on his shoulder and managed to take me to home. Large crowd assembled around me and I thought I will die within few minutes. The pain was unbearable. My father was crying while my mother was beating her chest. The irony is that BSF troopers had closed the gates of hospital and were not allowing people to admit wounded in the hospital. They stopped us as well. I was in the lap of my relative. My mother confronted and challenged troopers on hospital gate. They allowed us somehow but doctors their suggested for referral.”
Reyaz who is a government teacher by fort says he along with couple of seriously wounded civilians was huddled in a police jeep. “I want to salute that police driver who saved us from getting more bullets from troopers that stopped us at every barricade. “At Padshahi Bagh Bridge, the agitated people shouted anti-India slogans when troopers stopped our vehicle there. The troopers fired upon the vehicle. It was like any Bollywood movie scene, how our driver drove fast and escaped from the scene. We were also stopped at Dak Banglow, Sangam Bridge and at many check points till we reach to SMHS Hospital. This delay proved costly for some of the injured who succumbed to their injuries on way.”
Reyaz says that it was Allah’s wish to keep me alive. “Doctors at SMHS Hospital took care of those people whose survival chances were bright. They left me alone as I was on the verge of death. Today when I look at myself, I really feel that it was God’s wish. I survived but with my both hands crippled.”
Eyewitnesses say that: “BSF personnel resorted to indiscriminate firing for more than 10 minutes. Even those people were targeted and shot at who had come forward to carry the dead and injured. Hospital ambulances and medical staff were also denied access to the injured persons.”
Soon after the massacre, the government claimed that BSF personnel fired in self-defense as a group of armed militants fired at them, a claim refuted by eyewitnesses and human rights organizations.
On November 13, 1993, Inquiry Magistrate submitted a report vide number EN/BFC/93/23-24 and concluded that firing on the procession was absolutely unprovoked and the claim made by the troopers that they fired in self defence after militant firing is baseless and concocted.
The inquiry report further stated that the security personnel have committed offence out of vengeance and their barbarous act was deliberate and well planned. The report indicted Deputy Commandant of BSF, JK Radola, for tacit approval given by him for indiscriminate and un-provoked firing. Despite the magisterial inquiry, justice has been eluding the families of the victims from past 24 years.
Government of India conducted two enquiries and the National Human Rights Commission also conducted a probe. In March 1994 the government indicted the BSF for firing on crowd without provocation and charged 13 BSF officers with murder. A General Security Force Court Trial conducted in 1996, however, led to their acquittal. When the NHRC sought to examine the transcripts of the trials in order to satisfy itself that the BSF had made a genuine attempt to secure convictions, then Vajpayee-led Indian government refused.
The NHRC then moved to Supreme Court for a review. In September 2000, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.
“Those days there was advanced technology as it is today. News travels faster than light today. We came to know about the massacre during evening hours and decided to visit the spot next morning. Over two dozen journalists left from Kashmir capital city Srinagar,” says Mehrajuddin, senior photo journalist, who worked for ‘Reuters’, ‘Kashmir Times’ and ‘India Today’ that time.
Mehrajuddin, popular as MD in his friend circle, told this reporter that there was pin drop silence at Goriwan Bijbehara. “The blood stained deserted roads, presence of men in uniform and soundless gloomy atmosphere was a clear indication that something ugly is going to happen. As we started taking clicks, Indian soldiers pounced upon us and damaged our cameras. Our films were snatched and damaged and we were beaten to pulp. I was lucky that the then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah passed through the road and bundled me into his vehicle. It was because of him that I was able to save myself from the wrath of frenzied soldiers,” MD says.
PTI Photo Chief Mr Subhash will never forget that day. He received a sound beating and later on realized what people of Kashmir are going through. Recalling the incident, Photo Journalist Mehrajuddin says: “All the Journalists were forced to make a queue near fuel station while an army officer started his speech threatening us of dire consequences in case we highlight the incident to the world. We were treated like cattle. One of the lady journalists shouted at Army officer saying she is the grand-daughter of General Joshi. “I am the grand-daughter of General Joshi, you have no right to treat us like this,” the lady Journalist yelled while in response, the Army officer directed her to shut her mouth. “It is my area and I am its ruler. This is not the area of your General Joshi,” the Army officer thundered.
The dejected journalists were let off after being humiliated to the content of the army officer. Another eyewitness who wished not to be named said: “This incident changed the mindset of those pro-Indian journalists who were leaving no stone unturned in twisting the facts about Kashmir. That day reality dawned upon them and they started looking things from the prism of common Kashmiri people,” he said.
(The author is a senior journalist working for Current News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com)