Srinagar, May 07: Abdul Majid (40) sells ice cream and mobile recharge to devotees who visit the shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA), popularly known as Dastgeer Sahib, at Khanyar in downtown Srinagar. His shop is in the busy corner of the area next to the shrine, a public park and a graveyard. He prefers the world of escapism, but when someone asks him about that fateful day, he is forthcoming to tell his story.
On 8th May 1992, 22 civilians were killed and around hundred injured when paramilitary forces fired at people who were part of funeral prayers of militants killed in a gun battle with troopers earlier that day. The victims of the massacre included women and children,Khanyar looks like any other locality of Srinagar. On the face of it, everything looks normal. People are busy buying vegetables, some others cry over the ongoing butchers’ strike; tea vendor’s assistant makes jokes about his grand wedding plans and women chat with shopkeepers about the new products they ordered long back for their children.
This part of Srinagar city is always busy as it is home to the revered shrine of Dasteer Sahib. But a simple scratch into this ‘normalcy’ bleeds the sordid episode of Kashmir’s horror.
Many people who died on that fateful day remain buried in the graveyard opposite to Majid’s shop. His father, Ali Muhammad was one of the victims. A total of 72 people have so far been buried in this graveyard, which came into existence like many others after 1990 to bury those who died in conflict-related incidents.
“They shot my father in leg and he bled to death,” said Majid who is a well-built man and carries an aura of confidence when talking to people. He had seven siblings. At the time of their father’s death, his elder brother was a civil engineer working in the state government. After his father’s killing, he left his job, crossed the Line of Control, joined a militant group and died in a gun-battle in 2009. Two months later, his mother also passed away.
“My father saw dead body of a woman next to the shrine. As any decent man, he came to cover her when troopers shot him in the leg. Whosoever tried to save the injured that day were shot at the same way.”
Following the incident, Majid also joined a militant group. He was arrested and remained in prison for three years.
In the beginning of the conversation as he spoke to Rising Kashmir, he put up a brave face, but as Majid went to his father’s grave, the tough-looking guy broke down with tears silently moistening his sun tanned cheeks.
He was 18 years old when he went to collect the scattered brain matter of people who were shot in the head.
On May 8, some militants died in a gunfight in the morning with paramilitary troopers in Rainawari. As the bodies of the militants were handed over to locals, they brought them into the lawns of the shrine and thousands of people joined the funeral prayers.
“In those days everyone used to openly support the mujahideens. In those days, nobody would use the word ‘militant’. They were our freedom fighters,” said another shopkeeper who wished not to be named.
He also lost his father in 2009 when shrapnel of a grenade aimed at a CRPF picket killed him.
“As people finished the funeral prayers a convoy of troopers passed through the area and without any provocation they started firing on people. Taking a cue from the patrolling party, the bunkers on the either side of the shrine started firing on the people as well,” said the shopkeeper.
“He died in that very grave…May Allah bless him Jannath (paradise),” said the survivor who also wished not to be named.
In the middle of the conversation where these men were questioning the leadership, a man in his early 70s who was quietly listening joined the group and said: “I will not die until I see India leaving our land. We sacrificed countless lives for the sacred cause.”
The man wore a long white beard, a white Kashmiri cap and long Kashmiri gown (pheran) as he sat on the chair outside the shop. “We have started to count our sacrifices from 90s, but we have lost way many to the cause. I am not even counting those killed in communal violence in Jammu in 1947.”
The graveyard at Khanyar was created out only a few months before the May incident.
Two locals were killed after the troopers apparently got agitated by their conversation.
“A butcher and his client were talking to each other. A CRPF man thought they were talking about him. He (CRPF man) enquired why were they talking about him. They replied they were not. He went berserk and shot both of them dead. Local residents decided to bury them here which brought this martyrs graveyard. Few months later we had many graves here,” said the shopkeeper.
The Khanyar massacre has no definite death toll. A local human right activist, Ehsan Untoo, who filed a petition seeking full report into the incident, has managed to collect the details of 22 people who were killed. Among the dead, there were five women and also an infant.
His group International Forum for Justice has filed a petition in the State Human Rights Commission. The SHRC has asked Union of India to file a detailed report into the incident in a month’s time. “The deadline has now been extended,” said Untoo.
The shopkeepers opposite the shrine and the graveyard have similar stories to narrate in which they have lost a family member to the violence that erupted in late 1989.
“That grocery shop owner, that duppata seller, that baker and so many have lost their loved ones to violence,” said Majid as he pointed to the various shops in the market. He put his head down, this time to face the grave of his father.