Srinagar, 23 MUHARRAM-UL-HARAM 1430 AH Wednesday, January 21, 2009: Fifty two unarmed civilians were massacred by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers on 21 January, 1990 at Gawkadal. The memories of the first of a series of bloodiest massacres by Indian troopers across the Valley carried out to quell the freedom struggle are fresh in the minds of the survivors and the families of the victims. And the spot where the people were mowed down like flies is marked by a granite memorial which has a marble stone inscribed with the names of the martyrs and a tap from which passersby drink water. The memorial is hidden from the public gaze for most of the times by a row of auto rickshaws. The accused killers, as a norm, were exonerated a long time back.
Not knowing how to respond to the mass uprising, New Delhi deputed governor Jagmohan to Kashmir. He took the charge on January 19 and on the same night the troopers searched homes in the Guru Bazaar area during crackdown operations, and randomly arrested 56 civilians, beat up and abused people.
On January 20, the families including a large number of women, took to streets demanding the release of their kin who had been pulled out of their beds. They laid siege on the divisional commissioner's office for the whole day. Eventually, by the evening 50 of those arrested were set free as nothing was found against them.
Next day, a huge procession was taken out from Mehjoor Nagar and thousands of people from civil lines areas joined it. The protesters were marching toward Chota Bazar where the troopers had molested some women a day before. But when it reached Gawkadal the CRPF troopers fired at the unarmed peaceful protesters killing 52 of them and injuring scores of others.
Prominent journalist and columnist Zahir-ud-din witnessed the massacre. He says, “I was in the middle of crowd, when they started firing started. First they fired a shot in air and then at people. I just ran.”
“Next day we buried twelve bodies in our martyr’s graveyard at Magarmal Bagh without knowing the identities of the dead. I think some of them were never identified,” Zahir-ud-din said.
A Shopkeeper at Gawkadal wishing anonymity said, “The bodies were scattered on the road. The Imam Sahib of our mosque mustered up courage and walked among the bodies, trying to see if someone was breathing. How can we forget that day?” But for Abdul Rouf Wani’s courageous act the death toll would have been much higher than 52. Rouf stood in front of the barrel of a machine gun from which a CRPF trooper was firing at the procession.
Rouf was 20 years old and the results of his matriculation exam were declared three months later.
His elder sister, Zulehuma, said, “Who would rejoice at the exam results of a dead brother. When he was martyred my younger brother said Rouf was not made for this world. He was always different from all of us.”
“When he was young he once told me that he wanted to die a martyr’s death. Every breath he took was in the way of the Allah,” she said. Rouf had spent the night before the massacre in a mosque reciting Quran, Zulehuma said, adding, “He had returned home two days before from Gulmarg where he had spent a month along with many other preachers of Tabligh movement, preaching Islam.”
Zulehuma belives that her brother’s sacrifices would not go waste. “Today we are in the same situation as we were in the 1990. People have sold the blood of those who offered sacrifices which will not go waste,” she said.
Zulehuma has only one question for the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, “Has he ever asked himself where thousands of people of his age in Kashmir are? They have been killed.”
The massacre changed the life of Showkat Ahmed Khan. He built the memorial at the Gowkadal crossing. He joined the JKLF which spearheaded the struggle at that time. On 12 March 2002 he met the same fate as those killed at Gawkadal. After his arrest by the dreaded Special Task Force, his body was found from Shalteng. His father-in-law, Nazir Ahmad says that Showkat’s face “had nearly split into two with bullets.”
Showkat left behind a small baby girl who was barely three months old at that time. His wife has remarried since, but his daughter lives with his Showkat’s family. Nazir Ahmed says that she calls Showkat’s brother as his father.
And Showkat’s neighbor’s remember him as the “man who made the memorial.”