‘It was horrible to see troopers laughing, and kicking injured persons’
Srinagar, Jan 19: For Muhammad Farooq Wani, 61—the lone survivor of the Gaw Kadal massacre of January 21, 1990—the anniversary of the gory incident reopens his wounds.
“It was like hell,” Wani says, as he recalls the massacre in which 51 persons were killed when New Delhi had sent in Jagmohan as Governor of J&K to quell pro-freedom protests.
On January 20, 1990, the troopers of paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had barged into several houses in an old city locality called Chota Bazar and conducted wanton arrests besides molesting some women. Apprehending protests against the incident, the administration led by Jagmohan imposed restrictions in Srinagar on January 21, 1990.
Wani was then working as Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE) in the Public Health Engineering department. On the ill-fated day, there was water crisis in Old City and Wani’s immediate officer had instructed him to collect a curfew pass from Deputy Commissioner’s office here to visit the affected areas.
Wani was stopped by CRPF troopers near Jehangir Chowk and directed to take another route to the DC office. “As curfew was strictly imposed, I decided to go to my uncle’s home at Mandar Bagh and subsequently reach the DC office from there,” he told Greater Kashmir.
He says as he passed through the deserted lanes of Lal Chowk, he saw hundreds of people including women peacefully protesting at Gaw Kadal against the Chotta Bazar incident.
“The procession started to march towards Gaw Kadal (bridge) and I just tried to make my way through it. Suddenly, the CRPF troopers opened fire on the procession,” Wani recalls. “There were injured people all around. Sensing intentions of the CRPF troopers, I tried to jump into Chuntkul water channel from Gaw Kadal. Suddenly a man pushed me from behind. I remained in the bridge only while he jumped into Chuntkul,” he recalls.
Laying flat on Gaw Kadal, Wani witnessed the first massacre of Kashmiris, which is being remembered every year as the Gaw Kadal massacre.
“The injured were wreathing in pain and asking for water. It was horrible to see troopers laughing and kicking the injured. Suddenly, they started to pump bullets on heads of the injured persons, killing them instantly,” Wani said, as his face seethes in anger and eyes become moist. “I could see blood all around and hear last moans of death everywhere.”
Trapped among the bodies, Wani was yet to see the worst. In the melee, he says, a Kangri (traditional Kashmiri firepot) of a protestor, who was among the dead later, had broken. “My face started to burn as it touched hot ash and charcoal of the Kangri. I tried to roll my head to other side but unfortunately a trooper spotted me,” he says. “The trooper shouted ‘Sir Yeh Zinda Hai’ (Sir he is still alive) while pointing towards me among the bodies.”
As a stein gun totting CRPF officer rushed toward Wani, he says he become nervous.
“He aimed his gun towards me and I pleaded ‘Sir, please don’t shoot, I am an officer on duty.’ But he came close and hit me on my face,” Wani says. “The officer told me ‘Yahan Pakistan Mangta Hai’ (Do you want Pakistan in Kashmir?). I thought he does not understand English. I told him ‘Bhagwaan ki Kasam Hai, Mujhe Goli Mat Maro, Mein Duty Pe Hoon (Please don’t shoot at me, I am on duty).”
Narrating this sequence, Wani pauses and abruptly starts again. “The officer indiscriminately opened fire on me. There was burning sensation on my back. I recited Kalima and remembered my family including two little daughters,” Wani says.
“I had received most of the bullets on my back and right arm and was gradually losing sensation,” he says.
Wani’s diminishing hope for survival got revived when three constables of Jammu and Kashmir police reached the spot.
“On seeing the bodies, the cops became emotional and anger against the massacre was palpable on their faces. However, the CRPF troopers fired in the air and slapped the cops, chasing them away from the spot,” he says.
With each passing second and blood oozing from his wounds, Wani was fast losing hope for survival. In the meantime, another CRPF officer reached the spot. “He spotted me alive and placed his gun on my head. He placed his finger on trigger and was about to fire but he was interrupted by the CRPF officer who had fired at me. ‘Goli Zaya Mat Karo, Isko Aisay Hi Marnay Do (Don’t waste your bullets. Let him die like this,” recounts Wani. “Before leaving he kicked my face very hard.”
For around half-an hour, Wani said all he could hear was thumping sound of troopers’ boots and chirping of birds. “Suddenly, CRPF brought a truck and started loading bodies in it. I pleaded with a trooper to place me in the truck with the bodies. He held my muffler and dragged me like an animal into the truck,” Wani says.
After travelling for some five minutes, the truck reached the Police Control Room here. Still in the vehicle, Wani says he “got a sort of energy” after hearing conservations around in Kashmiri. “Somebody lifted the tarpaulin from back side of the truck and started to unload the bodies. Finding me alive, a Kashmir policeman instantly called a doctor posted at PCR who declared that I had the chances of survival if I could be operated upon immediately,” he says.
Within few minutes, Wani was rushed to SMHS hospital where he was operated upon for around three hours under supervision of a team of doctors. “I had received 16 bullets mostly on my back. After operation, many people whom I even didn’t know, kissed and hugged me,” he says.
He vividly remembers a teenager who held his blood soaked shoes with his chest. “He stood beside me in the hospital. I told him to call my residence landline and tell my family that I will be home next day. However, he could not control his emotions and told my sister about the incident. She had fainted and then he narrated the incident to my wife. She rushed to the hospital,” he says.
Wani was later shifted to Bone and Joints Hospital and admitted in a separate post operative room. He says a team of international journalists led by Mark Tully came to Srinagar to interact with survivors of the massacre. “Dr Farooq Ahmad Ashai introduced these journalists to me as I could speak in English. The team wept after hearing my ordeal and reported it in various international newspapers and magazines,” he says.
Though official figures put the number of fatalities at 21, human rights groups say 51 persons were killed in the massacre.
Police in FIR no 3/90 registered at Kralkhud Police Station under RPC 307, 148, 149, 188 and 153 stated that the CRPF troopers had opened fire to stop “unruly mob raising anti-India and anti-forces slogans” heading towards Lal Chowk at Gaw Kadal.
24 years down the line since the incident, Wani has served on various posts including Managing Director JK Cements and Chief Engineer (PWD)
“It is painful that the accused CRPF troopers are yet to be punished. It is ironical that police has till date not even recorded my statement despite being the lone survivor of the massacre. I am ready to testify against the accused even now,” he says.
Wani says he was offered reward for bravery by Hamid-ul-lah Khan, advisor to then Governor Jagmohan. “I told him I don’t need any reward but I only want punishment to the accused troopers who fired upon and killed unarmed protestors,” he says. “This will be the biggest tribute to the victims,” he says, taking a deep breath.