Srinagar: Way back 22 years ago on this day the Children’s park, in New Colony area of south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town, was turned into a graveyard when bullet-riddled bodies of as many as 32 people, including 25 teenage students had to be buried there.
The slain, all civilians, were killed in the infamous Bijbehara Massacre of 1993, when Border Security Force (BSF) personnel from 74 Battalion opened fire on unarmed demonstrators protesting against the siege of Dargah in Hazratbal, Srinagar.
The number of dead remains disputed with different national and International agencies putting the number between 35 and 52. More than 200 others were injured during the firing, leaving many of them handicapped for the rest of their life.
Survivors of the massacre term firing by Border guards as completely unprovoked – later established by a magisterial inquiry initiated into the killings, as well.
“The killings were cold-blooded and barbarous in nature,” the inquiry report had stated. The newly constructed park, as per the locals, was purposed for the recreation of younger ones. “Little did we know that we will be burying our younger ones in the same park,” laments Ghulam Nabi, whose teenage son fell to the bullets of the border guards that fateful day.
16-year-old Arshid Hussain Tak had engraved his name on concrete fencing of the park few months before the Massacre. “Now he lays buried just beneath his engraved name,” says his brother Ijaz. Tak, son of a renowned doctor, had appeared in his class 10th examination and was awaiting results. The 25 students buried at the park were all aged between 11 and 17.
“And there are 25 stories of shattered dreams of parents who still mourn their children,” says a Human rights activist, who has been collecting data on the massacre for over two years now. The activist, wishing anonymity, says there are stories of families erased like they never existed and some who were utterly devastated.
There was this Hindu boy who had been part of the protests, the activist says. “Kenwal Ji, alias Babloo, was 17 and had only his ailing mother in the family. Babloo fell to the bullets and his mother died of the shock,” he says, “Their family vanished just like that.” Some people lost their only sources of income, like the 3 teenage sisters of Hamadani family in Tak Mohalla area of the town.
Their 16-year-old brother, Muhammad Shafi, was killed that fateful day and their mother died of shock in the days to follow. “The girls were left utterly helpless, for their father had died long ago. Their struggle for survival is a painful one,” narrates one of their neighbours. Then there are woeful tales of the injured left handicapped and their struggles to resurrect their lives.
22 years later, today, the families might have put the gory massacre behind them but the pain remains.
“The pain that killers of my father roam free gives me nightmares,” says Ubaid Zargar, whose father was killed in the massacre. Zargar was a toddler back then. The government has compensated the victim families on monetary basis to some extent but the sense of justice eluding them remains a source of immense pain.