Flashback Chota Bazar - June 11th, 1991: 32 civilians massacred by Indian security forces
By Asifa Amin Koul - 9 June 2010
The memories of “Syed Mansoor-Chota Bazaar mayhem” perpetrated by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel 18 years ago still causes a deep stir inside the hearts of the scores of bereaved families whose kiths and kins were killed in the “blood-curdling” incident.
It was Tuesday evening of June 11, 1991-when a nine-member CRPF posse came charging from their camp at Syed Mansoor Bridge towards the Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar around 6:15 pm and opened indiscriminate firing with their automatic weapons all the way upto the densely populated downtown area of Srinagar, Chota Bazaar.
The indiscriminate firing by the security personnel took a massive toll of 32 lives of innocent civilians. Around 22 persons were also critically injured in the incident. The bullets hit shopkeepers, passerby, a 75-year old woman and a child. However, the official reports confirmed killings of 18 civilians and six injured persons.
It is believed that the reprehensible act was a catharsis to “avenge” the killing of a CRPF jawan namely Abdul Majid of Azamgarh by some unidentified militants on the same fateful day at Zainakadal Srinagar at about 3 PM. However, there was no confirmation of the killing of the CRPF jawan by the officials. (The Kashmir Times, dated June 12, 1991).
This was perhaps the most tragic incident of its kind since May 21, 1990 when mourners carrying the body of the assassinated Mirwaiz Farooq, Awami Action Committee founder-leader and father of Hurriyat Conference (M), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, were fired upon near Islamia College Srinagar, allegedly on a fire provocation by the militants, leaving 70 unarmed civilians dead.
Eyewitnesses of the horrendous incident said that while forcing their way into the provision store in front of the hospital, the CRPF jawans dragged people out and opened fire on them. One of the victims included a doctor of the opthomology department of SMHS hospital Srinagar who was shot in his throat despite pleading for his life while showing his identity card to the CRPF troops.
An employee of the medical college and an eyewitness to the incident had this to say: “Our store keeper Ghulam Mohammad was dragged out and shot on the road. I locked myself in the bathroom and saved my life. Besides three shots, I heard Ghulam Mohammad’s cry.” (The Kashmir Times, June 13, 1991).
The security forces, according to the eye witnesses, stopped four auto-rickshaws near National School, Karan Nagar Srinagar and killed their drivers as well as passengers who included 75-year old wife of one Ghulam Hussan Khan of Chota Bazaar and brothers, Mohammed Syed Baihaqi and Meerak Baihaqi.
This was unfortunately the second bereavement in seven months for the Baihaqi family of Zaldagar Srinagar as Sayeed Ahmad Baihaqi, the grand son of Mohammad Syed Baihaqi, 80, was killed outside his house by security forces on November 1, 1990 following an attack on the latter by unidentified militants.
The security personnel then entered a mechanical workshop opposite National School, Karan Nagar and killed the workshop owner, Abdul Rashid. Three employees of the workshop also fell to the bullets.
While recollecting the 18-year old tragic incident, a junior mechanic at the workshop who shares a deep anguish of the terrible mayhem, said, “Three CRPF men entered our shop and shouted ‘Bhoon Daalo Sab Ko’ (Kill them all!). Ignoring my master’s pleas, they started firing. I saw my master dying in a pool of blood in front of me”. I saw my master dying in a pool of blood in front of me… The CRPF men went out of the shop but returned a few moments later, shouting ‘Koi Bacha To Nahien Hai?’ (If anybody is alive?),” adding that more than 10 dead bodies were lying in pool of blood outside the shop.
According to the reports published in The Kashmir Times next day, the entire area from where 17 bodies were picked and brought to the police control room by 8 pm bore blood stains. At the police control room where the dead bodies were brought, over 1000 grieving persons gathered to ascertain the identity of the deceased. Slogans were raised against the authorities of the control room who had mounted guard against the bereaved people looking for their deceased relatives.
Whereas the then intelligence chief, Amar Kapoor and other senior officials who visited the spot were unable to explain the sequence of events, the then Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Srinagar, A L Khan, while admitting that all those killed were civilians told the Kashmir Times on the fateful day that a criminal case had been registered against the CRPF under Section 302 with the Karan Nagar police.
However, according to the then divisional commissioner, C Phounsong, security forces retaliated when they came under severe fire from the militants.
A day after the incident, the state government claimed to have ordered Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe into the Chota Bazaar firing and registered criminal cases in this connection to ensure a “fair and just inquiry.” The official spokesman had further claimed that the security forces involved in the uncontrolled firing had been taken off from the duty. A separate commission headed by ex-chief justice, Mufti Jallal-ud-din was also appointed to inquire into the causes and circumstances leading to the Syed Mansoor-Chota Bazaar incident.
As a routine, the state government announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs one lakh each to the next of the kin of those killed at Syed Mansoor-Chota Bazaar. As a mark of protest against the tragic incident, shops, banks, government and semi-government establishments remained closed in the areas not coming under the purview of curfew. Transport services also remained off the roads in the entire Kashmir valley in view of the strike called by a militant outfit group, Al-Umar Mujahideen.
To pay obeisance to the deceased, hundreds of people visited the “massacre site” during the curfew relaxation period next day to the incident and placed flowers at spots from where the dead bodies of innocent persons were picked up. People from the nearby localities served food and water to the grieving visitors.
While talking to The Kashmir Times, Shakeel Bhakshi, a separatist leader opined that unless the perpetrators of the incidents like Syed-Mansoor-Chota Bazaar are not dealt with on the “war criminal” procedure, such incidents would continue to occur time and again.