Twenty-one people fell to bullets of the paramilitary BSF men in this frontier town on Jan 25, 1990 , barely four days after Gaw Kadal massacre in Srinagar where 52 unarmed civilians were shot dead by the paramilitary CRPF men.
The Handwara blood bath was carried out when around 10,000 people were heading towards Handwara Chowk to protest against the Gawkadal massacre.
"It had been almost a year now that resistance had been gradually spreading in Kashmir. Month of January brought with it news of heavy deployment of BSF and CRPF in the Valley.
Massive protests and curfews in Kashmir had become order of the day by that time. Soon news of Jagmohan taking over as the Governor of J&K was received and on the first night of Jagmohan's tenure curfew was imposed in the entire Valley.
On Jan 21, 22, 23, 24 there were massive protests in entire Kashmir including Handwara town of Kupwara district against the Gawkadal massacre. On Jan 24, an organized protest programme was devised and all the people were asked to assemble at Handwara chowk and take part in protest demonstration.
On Jan 25, thousands of people from Ramhal, Vilgam, Rajwar, Kandi, Nagarwari, Qaziabad, Qalamabad, Kulangam and adjoining areas started pouring in at Handwara Chowk.
In Handwara, people were hoisting green flags amid pro-freedom, anti- India and anti-Jagmohan slogans at the time.
At around 11 am, a large procession from Ramhal area had reached Handwara chowk via Magam route.
A TATA- 407 vehicle of BSF from Waripora Handwara, (No. HVN-7717) appeared near police station Handwara and tried to make its way through the procession, protestors didn't allow it to pass on, this infuriated the BSF men who opened fire on the unarmed protestors, there was retaliation from the protestors who resorted to stone pelting, and they even set the BSF vehicle on fire.
BSF troopers showered the bullets entered into the police station Handwara and ransacked the records and furniture in there and beat up police men.
"When the procession was passing though Handwara Police Station, the BSF fired at us," recalled Habibullah Khan a survivor who was part of the procession.
According to Khan, people were protesting peacefully when troopers opened fire at them. "Suddenly people hit by bullets were falling in front of me. Some of them died on the spot. I could see the bodies of Muhammad Shafi War of Divaspora, Shafi Khan of Sodal, Nazir Ahmad Dar of Braripora, Shiefud-din Khan of Wullarhama, Ghulam Muhammad Sheikh of Wajhama, Ghulam Muhammad Beigh of Wudpora, Ali Mohammad Itto of Chogal, Ghulam Muhammad War and Muhammad Amin Masala both residents of Kulangam receiving bullets and dying in front of me. Many others were critically injured," he said.
Khan added that the mere thought of that day sends shivers down his spine. "The BSF troopers had gone berserk. Doomsday cannot be worse than what I witnessed. Within minutes bodies were piling on streets and blood was scattered everywhere.I escaped miraculously in the indiscriminate firing, BSF men didn't allow us initially to remove the injured to the hospital," he added.
While recounting the moments Majboor Kasmiri a local journalist said: "I was near police station and saw the first bullet fired by a BSF man and hitting one Ghulam Muhammad Khoja of Kulangam who used to work as a vendor at Handwara. A bullets pierced through his head and dropped him dead. By that time we could hardly know that bullets of SLR guns could kill a person. They were showering volley of bullets and we were throwing stones on them".
Second man who fell to bullets was Abdul Rashid a resident of Hanga Handwara. "Rashid' body was lying near a wall of the police station. BSF men sitting other side of the wall were firing indiscriminately. I mustered courage and dragged the body of the Rashid despite firing thinking that he might be alive".
Muhammad Maqbool Mir a shopkeeper in his forties said that I was 15 years old then. As firing started I saw several people falling to bullets. I jumped into police station and took refuge in the Munishyat room of Handwara police station and hid myself under a table. Firing was continuing, by the time bodies were dumped by some police men into the compound of police station. BSF men were on killing spree, a Policeman saw me hiding under the table and told me that they (BSF) men will not spare me."
Policeman asked me to lay on the ground and he caught hold of me from my leg and dragged me towards the bodies and dumped me there within minutes several dead bodies were piled on and I was lying under a body. Blood oozing out of a body was pouring on my clothes and a BSF man aiming his gun approached towards me and left me presuming me dead after seeing blood on my clothes.
Again a policeman came told me that you will be taken to hospital among the dead bodies. Again I was dragged out and dumped in a police truck, I could see the bodies lying in a truck and hear the screams of injured, some injured were succumbing to their injures and I could hear so many people reciting Kalima while succumbing. I could feel the hot blood oozing out of the bodies trickling on my face.
By 2 pm firing stopped. I was dumped in mortuary which was located in a make shift tin shed at district hospital Handwara, when a civilian touched me I whispered that I am alive. The news of my death had spread like a wild fire. Even my parents and relatives had dug up a grave for me.
I was taken to my home and my parents and relatives were shocked to see me alive.
I was then 15 years old, by the time all the people had reached Handwara chowk. I along with my elder brother Shamesdin and my father Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh were part of the protest demonstration.
A BSF soldier sitting under the cover of a shop fired indiscriminately on the protestors. I was holding the hand of my father and I saw a bullet hitting his head, he didn't leave my hand, despite receiving a bullet, again the trooper aimed and fired at the chest of my father, I saw my father falling on the ground and shouting run away Manzoor, save your life. Even today I recall the last words of my father.
There was no place in the wards of the hospital. We brought the beds out the hospital and placed them in the park of the hospital, we on our own started providing first aid to the injured, critically injured persons were taken to Baramulla hospital. Women and youth of Handwara were leading from the front to treat the injured; Women had brought the water for the injured. Curfew was imposed in the entire town around 4 pm. Defying the curfew agitated protestors set on fire the government buildings including walnut factory at Magam, Hortiuculture produce marketing centre Budkoot, Forest division Langate, Dak Bunglow Handwara, and Range office quarters etc. Despite curfew people reached the homes of the deceased persons and participated their funeral prayers.
Curfew in Handwara and its adjoining areas continued for 9 consecutive days.
An FIR vide NO- 10/1990 stands registered at Police station Handwara under sections 307, 151, 53, 427, 336, 449, 448, 436, 435–A. Police have cited that all the accused BSF men are untraceable.
"Till this date the government has no answer to our queries as to what led to this massacre. Killed persons were not militants but civilians who were protesting peacefully," locals of Handwara said.
Handwara witnessed one of the worst massacres in the history of Kashmir, people still remember the bloodbath.
Twenty-one protesters were killed in cold blood, and 75 were injured on January 25, 1990.