23 years on, Sopore massacre memories still haunt witnesses

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Sopore: Even as twenty three years have passed since Sopore massacre but the eyewitnesses say they still get haunted as the ‘painful memories’ of that ‘unfortunate day’ when blood of innocents was spilled on the streets of Sopore Town and structures were razed to ashes by the men in uniform have not vanished from their minds. A total of 44 persons were reported to be killed by the BSF during the carnage but some human rights activists claim the toll was around 50.

Abdul Hamid Bhat, an eyewitness, narrates the horrid tale by the men in uniform. “On Jan 6 of 1993, it was 8:55 am. I heard an explosion. I have the habit of reading the newspaper every morning on time from my younger age which I used to get from a stall near Degree College.

At first, everything seemed to be alright but still there was some unease in the air. People were talking about that explosion which was actually an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast which had occurred at the ‘New Colony’ area of Sopore. I got my newspaper and went to a nearby shop, Nishat Textiles, in the Main Chowk to get something.

It was around 9:55 am; a sound of a bullet shot was heard. Nishat Textiles was visible from the bunkers of a nearby BSF camp housed in the State Bank Building. We ran towards main Bazar which we thought was a bit safer,” he said.

sopore massacre

“It was just behind the Main Chowk where J&K Bank branch is located now. We rushed towards a building for shelter and went upstairs on the 2nd floor. We heard sound of more gunfire. I was accompanied by 10-12 men and women and I saw all of them lying flat. I was youngest among them. I peeped through a window and nobody moved even an inch. When we heard heavy footsteps on the roads and the BSF men saying, ‘Jo be samney aayai maar daalo sab ko (Kill whosoever comes in your way!),” recalls Bhat, amid long pause.

Forty-five-year old Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal, another survivor and eyewitness, said he was the first shopkeeper to open his shop in the market on that cold winter morning. “On that morning an LMG rifle of one BSF troops had been snatched and there was some tension in the area. At around 10.30 am I saw around 25 BSF troops who appeared in the market and they started firing at people. People started running for their lives and some sought shelter inside the market shops. BSF troops also fired at an SRTC passenger bus that was coming from Bandipora,” Kanjwal recalls. “I think around 14 to 15 passengers were killed inside the bus when BSF troops opened fire and set it on fire by sprinkling gunpowder,” he said.

It was on the morning of 6 January 1993 that a group of militants attacked a platoon of Border Security Force soldiers at Baba Yousuf Lane near Sopore killing one of them. In retaliation, the BSF fired at any one & every one coming in their sight and set fire to residential homes and business premises.

According to eyewitnesses, many people who were killed on January 6 were buried without their families being able to see them one last time. A respected Sufi Pir lost six members of his immediate and extended family. His two grandsons, two nephews and two cousins were killed in the massacre. “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,” they said.

Like many of the probes ordered by the government the enquiry ordered in the Sopore massacre yielded nothing. But the scars of the victims’ families and survivors are still fresh. (GNS)