There is a probability that the headline might have sounded little weird to you, and if it did, let me tell you that you are wrong. Here is why:
January 19, 1990 – the day disputed north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was put under Presidents rule and Jagmohan, believed to be a forceful administrator, appointed as the Governor – and the following two weeks of the month are seen as a catalyst that turned discontent for India into a mass upsurge.
On the night of 19 January, Kashmiri Pandits – a Hindu sect inherent to Kashmir’s spirit of multiplicity and moderation – left the valley in an almost overnight exodus. While there are a lot of unanswered questions how state-un SRTC buses were made available to panicked Pandits during the night, the exodus was, anyway, a setback to Kashmiri nation as a whole. Kashmiri Muslims felt like losing a body part as Pandits departed.
In the next two weeks, at least 300 unarmed protesters were killed by Indian paramilitary forces.
The killing spree started on 21 January, when at least 50 people were killed on Gaw Kadal Bridge in Srinagar. Thousands of people from different parts of Srinagar had taken to streets to protest the molestation of women and arrest of hundreds of people during house-to-house searches conducted by paramilitary forces in Chotta Bazar area of Karan Nagar.
As a massive crowd reached the Gaw Kadal bridge over Jhelum river, demanding independence from India, forces fired on them, killing at least 35 people on spot.
The death toll, according to hospital officials, later rose to 50. Unofficial estimates put the death toll at 280, maintaining that some people died by gunshot wounds and others because of drowning after they jumped into the Jhelum in fear.
Ironically, no investigation was ordered into the incident, what is remembered now as Gaw Kadal Massacre. Police case too was closed with those involved in the massacre declared as untraceable.
Muhammad Farooq Wani, then working as Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE) in the Public Health Engineering department, is the lone survivor of the Gaw Kadal massacre. He described the scene of the massacre in a local English daily like this:
“The procession [shouting slogans in favour of Azadi] started to march towards Gaw Kadal (bridge) and I just tried to make my way through it. Suddenly, the CRPF troopers opened fire on the procession. There were injured people all around. Sensing intentions of the CRPF troopers, I tried to jump into Chuntkul water channel from Gaw Kadal. Suddenly a man pushed me from behind. I remained in the bridge only while he jumped into Chuntkul.
“The injured were wreathing in pain and asking for water. It was horrible to see troopers laughing and kicking the injured. Suddenly, they started to pump bullets on heads of the injured persons, killing them instantly. I could see blood all around and hear last moans of death everywhere.
“My face started to burn as it touched hot ash and charcoal of a Kangri (apparently of some dead protester). I tried to roll my head to other side but unfortunately a trooper spotted me. The trooper shouted ‘Sir Yeh Zinda Hai’ (Sir he is still alive) while pointing towards me among the bodies.
“He aimed his gun towards me and I pleaded ‘Sir, please don’t shoot, I am an officer on duty.’ But he came close and hit me on my face,” Wani says. “The officer told me ‘Yahan Pakistan Mangta Hai’ (Do you want Pakistan in Kashmir?). I thought he does not understand English. I told him ‘Bhagwaan ki Kasam Hai, Mujhe Goli Mat Maro, Mein Duty Pe Hoon (Please don’t shoot me, I am on duty).”
“The officer indiscriminately opened fire on me. There was burning sensation on my back. I recited Kalima and remembered my family including two little daughters.
“I had received most of the bullets on my back and right arm and was gradually losing sensation.”
Human Rights Watch, in a report in May, 1991, said of the massacre:
“In the weeks that followed [the Gawakadal massacre] as security forces fired on crowds of marchers and as militants intensified their attacks against the police and those suspected of aiding them, Kashmir’s civil war began in earnest.”
MJ Akbar, editor of Asian Age newspaper, said of the massacre, “January 19 became the catalyst which propelled into a mass upsurge. Young men from hundreds of homes crossed over into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to receive arms and training in insurrection.”
25 years later, Kashmiris continue to demand a chance to decide their fate, which they say has been scripted somewhere else.
Senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called for a strike in Gaw Kadal today to pay tributes to those who died during the massacre.