Hawal massacre anniversary: "It was hell; saw paramilitary men firing with machine guns on civilians'

Hawal massacre anniversary: ''It was hell; saw paramilitary men firing with machine guns on civilians'

25 years on, survivors recount bloodbath that claimed over 60 innocent lives

 “It was a hell….. I saw paramilitary men firing with machine guns on civilians and there was only blood and bodies around,” recounted Farooq Ahmad, one of the survivors of Hawal massacre.

Over 60 civilians were killed and hundreds injured when paramilitary forces opened indiscriminate firing on the funeral procession of Kashmir’s prominent religious and political leader, Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, on May 21, 1990, at Hawal in Shaher-e-Khaas here. Despite passing of 25 years, the horrific memories of the massacre are still fresh among the survivors—who still await justice to the victims.

After Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, who was attacked on the same day by unidentified gunmen at his Nigeen residence, breathed his last at SKIMS, people from different areas of Kashmir rushed there to have his last glimpse.

Within hours, thousands of people gathered at SKIMS and carried his body in a massive procession towards MirwaizManzil at RajouriKadal. “When the procession reached Hawal, the paramilitary personnel stationed in a camp at Islamia College mounted machine guns on the wall of the college and pointed them towards the peaceful procession,” Farooq said. 

“After a few seconds, the personnel fired indiscriminately on the procession without any provocation. I found myself amidst bodies and blood,” he said as tears welled in his eyes. 

“Scores of injured people including children and women were wreathing in pain and crying for help,” he said and broke down, pointing towards the massacre spot.

“I was so shocked on witnessing the mayhem that I hardly realized that a bullet had hit my right hand. One of my fingers was hanging just by a vein. I tried to help other injured, but I could not move due to heavy loss of blood,” he said.

Nazir Ahmad Baba, another eyewitness recounted, “The paramilitary men trampled many injured to death. Initially when the personnel stopped the funeral procession, an aged woman argued with a senior officer of paramilitary forces. The officer trained his pistol on her chest and opened fire. The woman fell on the ground and died instantly. For some moments, there was pin drop silence. Suddenly, the personnel took positions and fired indiscriminately on the procession,” Baba said.

“I saw many paramilitary men trampling the injured persons, leading to their death. They did not even spare the bodies. They acted like savages, dancing, shouting slogans while firing on the civilians,” he said.

Mustering courage, Baba with the help of other persons rushed some injured to hospital. “We ferried some of the injured on handcarts to SKIMS. Some of them succumbed on the way,” he said.

“After the massacre, the personnel suddenly started to check the bodies. They fired on chests and heads of several injured including children from point blank range. I was hiding near the bodies. However, the paramilitary men spotted me and fired a volley of bullets. I received bullets in my abdomen,” said Abdul Latief, a survivor.

The witnesses said the body of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq also received several bullets. “Many people who were shouldering Mirwaiz’s coffin were hit by bullets. But as they fell on ground, other persons braving bullets shouldered the coffin. Later, we took the body through lanes to MirwaizManzil at RajouriKadal. The body had received several bullets in the firing at Hawal,” said Muhammad Shafi, a witness.

Pointing towards a memorial for the martyrs of Hawal, Farooq Ahmad said, “People seem to have forgotten their sacrifices. They faced bullets not for jobs, roads or monetary benefit but self-respect of Kashmiris. I wish Kashmiris will not let their sacrifices go in vain,” he said, reading the names of the victims carved on the memorial.

The then state government had announced a ‘time-bound’ inquiry into the massacre within a period of two months. However, in reply to an RTI application in 2013, the then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir stated that a criminal case under FIR No. 35/1990 was registered into the incident at Nowhatta police station. “However, there is no information with the department as to whether there was any inquiry either judicial or magisterial ordered by the government or not,” he had stated.

On a petition by a human rights activist, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in 2014 had ordered time bound inquiry into the massacre and sought a report from the government within two months.

“Despite various communications addressed to the DGP, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and also from Secretary of the Commission, authorities are unmoved. In view of the insensitive approach adopted by the authorities, the Commission is left with no option but to entrust the inquiry to the investigative wing of this Commission,” the SHRC had stated. However, the inquiry could not be completed as SHRC has been rendered defunct for past over a year after expiry of the term of its chairperson and members.

Prominent human rights activist and lawyer, ParvezImroz, said, “Police filed the final report into the case in 2013. They have stated that the civilians at Hawal were killed in cross firing. The case can be reopened if the families of victims pursue the case.”

Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the conglomerate will seek reopening of the case. “We will take legal recourse to bring the accused troopers to book. It is highly unfortunate and shameful that more than 60 human beings who were mourners and pallbearers were massacred in cold blood by the forces of biggest democracy of the world,” he said.

“It is one of the worst instances of State terrorism. Justice to them and their families has been denied as no one was held accountable. But the martyrs of Hawal are the brave hearts of our nation whose supreme sacrifice we salute,” Mirwaiz added.