The Day Dead Bodies Piled Up On A Highway

  • Reyaz Ahmad Ganaie
  • Publish Date: Nov 4 2017 9:47PM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 4 2017 9:47PM
The Day Dead Bodies Piled Up On A Highway

A survivor recounts the Bijbehara massacre of October 1993

It was Friday, October 22, 1993, the eighth consecutive day of the Indian military’s siege of the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar. The pro-freedom leadership had called for peaceful protests to demand lifting of the siege and Bijbehara joined in. After Friday prayers, a procession of about 15,000 people started from the town’s Jamia Masjid, shouting slogans as is customary. When the procession reached the Srinagar-Jammu national highway, it was confronted by the 74th battalion of the BSF. All hell broke loose.

The BSF men, without provocation, fired indiscriminately on the procession for about an hour, killing 40 people on the spot and wounding over 300. Dead bodies piled up on the road and blood was splattered everywhere. I was among the wounded, hit in my chest and both hands. I was 13 years old. 

I remember my neighbours Gulab Khan and Mohammad Ramzan Ganaie lifted me and ran towards the local hospital. Meanwhile, hearing the firing, the entire town had trooped out onto the streets. My mother saw me being carried, all bloodied; she started crying and pulling out her hair, and followed us to the hospital. There, BSF men had closed the gate and weren’t letting anybody in. But my mother wasn’t going to let her son die for want of treatment. She raged at the soldiers: “Let us enter the hospital, or kill me right here.” The soldiers gave way. 

The hospital, though, wasn’t well equipped, so they referred me and some of the other wounded to District Hospital, Islamabad. Many of us were put into a truck and, accompanied by a crowd of relatives and townsfolk, taken to Islamabad. But on the way at Padshahi Bagh, less than half a kilometre from the scene of the massacre, we were stopped by the Rashtriya Rifles. They ordered the wounded out of the truck, but the people with us agitated and started shouting slogans for Azadi. Infuriated, the army men fired at our vehicle and left. At Khanabal, we were again stopped by another army contingent to check our identity cards. Finally, we reached the district hospital, only to find that there were barely any doctors to take care of us. We were told to go to Srinagar. As we returned through Bijbehara on the way to Srinagar, a few more people got into the truck to accompany us. 

Starting at Sangam Bridge, the military stopped us at several places before we reached the SMHS Hospital. All the wounded were immediately taken into operation theatres, except me as the doctors figured I was the least likely to survive. Unaware of this, I was begging the doctors to remove the bullets from my body, and crying from the pain. Eventually, though, when I did not die as quickly as the doctors might have guessed, I was operated upon too. 

A few days later, I learnt that all the other wounded who had been brought in with me and operated upon first had passed away. Talk about fate!

Among the people slain that day was a 13-year-old Pandit boy named Kamal Koul, who too had joined the procession. After Kamal’s death, his family migrated to Jammu. 

The day after the carnage, thousands of soldiers were deployed in Bijbehara and a strict curfew imposed; even journalists were not allowed into the town. 

The government ordered an enquiry by Bijbehara’s magistrate, who eventually recommended that the accused BSF personnel be suspended and criminal proceedings initiated against them. Nothing ever came of it. Or of the National Human Rights Commission’s case against the accused, not least because the central home and defence ministries denied it access to records of the court martial in which all the accused BSF personnel had been acquitted. The NHRC took the matter to the Supreme Court, but the Indian government contended that the records could not be made available for reasons of “national security”, forcing the NHRC to withdraw the case in September 2000.

Thus was justice denied to Bijbehara’s people. It is 24 years since the massacre, but everyone in my town still carries the scars – as I do. 

(Dr. Reyaz Ahmad Ganaie, who survived the Bijbehara massacre, has a Ph.D. from Pondicherry Central University)