Kashmir’s Forgotten Massacre

  • Aaqib Makhdoomi
  • Publish Date: Jan 1 2018 11:59AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jan 1 2018 11:59AM
Kashmir’s Forgotten Massacre

Mehraj- Ud- Din Hajji at his home in New Theed (left).     Manzoor Ahmad Baba was hit on his arm when forces fired on the protesters (right)

Twenty six people were killed and hundreds wounded when the Indian army rained bullets on a peaceful protest at Zakura Crossing on March 1, 1990


It was March 1, 1990. Mehraj-ud-Din Hajji, then 13, was called by his friends to join a protest march by residents from Tailbal, Kimber, Dara and adjoining areas on the outskirts of Srinagar. They planned to go to the United Nations Military Observers Group in Srinagar to submit a memorandum demanding the right to self-determination for Kashmir.

As the protesters reached Zakura Crossing, they were confronted by the Indian army. In a moment, bullets started flying. One struck Mehraj in the abdomen, burrowed through the length of his torso and flew out of his shoulder – knocking the child over. When the guns fell silent, 26 people lay dead and hundreds wounded.

It’s one of the largest massacres Kashmir has suffered since rising up in armed revolt against Indian rule in the late 1980s. Yet, for the most part, this tragedy seems to have receded from our collective memory. Indeed, it has been barely documented.

For its direct victims, however, the Zakura massacre remains a recurring nightmare over a quarter century later.

“It haunts me still,” says Mehraj, who lives in New Theed near the Harwan Garden. The injury rendered his arm “useless”, a constant reminder of the horror he lived through. “I can’t even pick up a glass with my right hand.”

Recalling the day, Mehraj says theirs was a peaceful demonstration. Some of the protesters were wearing shrouds and singing pro-Azadi songs. “Killings by the Indian forces were taking place throughout the valley and people of our area thought that if could not be brave enough to pick up the gun, we could at least peacefully protest against the killings and demand Azadi.”

At Zakura, they encountered an army convoy. One protester, waving a green flag and shouting anti-India slogans, touched one of their trucks. This, Mehraj claims, was the provocation for the army to open fire. “It was mayhem,” he recalls. “People died in front of my eyes. The road turned red with blood.”

Mehraj, now married with a daughter, believes he survived because, after he was knocked over, a dead body fell on him and shielded him from the bullets. “It continued for over two hours,” he says of the firing. “It was like they were doing shooting practice.”

It was three hours before the wounded could be taken to hospital. By then Mehraj was unconscious from the loss of blood. When he came to, he was in SKIMS, Soura. It was chaos, he recalls, with the hospital staff struggling to attend to so many wounded people. “Nobody from the civil administration helped us. There was in fact no civil administration on the ground those days.” 

Hameeda Bano of Khimber, Hazratabal, is another witness to the massacre. She wasn’t part of the protest; she was on her way to a relative’s house when she was caught in the firing. “It started so unexpectedly. They fired indiscriminately on the people. They even fired on the people who were caught in fencing wires or fell into drains. It was all so painful and I still remember everything,” recalls Hameeda, now in her 40s. “Blood and cries everywhere.”

Hameeda was pushed, along with many other women and children, onto a bus that had been waiting for the convoy to clear the way. She was saved. Her brother-in-law Ghulum Rasool Bhat, who had joined the protest from Khimber, was killed.  “When I was told about his death, I fell unconscious.”

Another man from Khimber, Habibullah Reshi, then in his 30s, was also killed that day. His widow, Jana Bibi, says she was in their orchard when she got the news. She was devastated, she says. Habibullah and Jana had three young children and she had to bring them up all alone. “I can never forget those times,” says her son Muhammad Sultan, who was four at the time. “I can’t describe the hardship my mother faced raising us.”

Manzoor Ahmad Baba, then newly married, had joined the protest at the insistence of his friends. He confirms Mehraj’s account that the soldiers opened fire “when a protester carrying a green flag touched an army vehicle”. “It was as if they were shooting animals.”

Manzoor was hit in the arm and fell. A boy, who he later learned was from Burzahama and shared his first name, dropped on him, bloodied. “He died in my arms,” Manzoor says. “He was so young. I can never forget his face.”

Scores of such survivor and witness accounts of the Zakura massacre can be easily collected, yet little effort has been made to document it. And not just this massacre. “There are many massacres that need to be properly reported and documented,” says Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, chairman of the International Forum for Justice, who claims to have petitioned the State Human Rights Commission to investigate and document as many as 153 massacres, including the one in Zakura.

Untoo urged the victims of all these massacres to come forward and lodge complaints  with the human rights commission. “They have to come forward for justice,” he said.

It’s debatable if that would really help. After all, there hasn’t even been an enquiry into the Zakura massacre in the last 27 years. The SHRC, in fact, does not have a file on the incident. “The Commission was formed in 1997 and this case happened in 1990,” said an official at the SHRC who asked not to be named. “If anybody can provide us a file number through which we can trace the record, we will look it up.”

Although an FIR was registered at the Zakura police chowki – now a police station – it does not have any details about the massacre. “It is better you go to Nigeen police station,” said a policeman. “Our police station was created in 2000.”

The police station in Nigeen does have an FIR in its records – FIR No. 88/1991 – but it’s registered against unknown army men. It records 11 people dead and 13 people injured, which is grossly inaccurate. The case has been closed, the records show, because the accused, “unknown army men”, could not be traced.

Is it any surprise that families of most of those killed in the Zakura massacre as well as the survivors have lost all hope of ever getting justice?