• BSF men unleashed terror killing 57 civilians and burning over 300 shops, 100 residential houses
It was a chilly day on January 6, 1993 when we woke up to the news of a massacre in Sopore town. News would not come as fast as it does today. But the panic on streets of Srinagar was palpable with Governor’s administration gearing up to impose restrictions to foil the attempts of spontaneous reaction to the killing of 57 civilians at the hands of Border Security Force (BSF).
There was no platform like Hurriyat Conference then and it was for militant organisations to give strike calls, but most of the strikes were spontaneous as the magnitude of actions by the forces was too high.
Since the news about the massacre had reached Srinagar, there was no traffic and the movement of people was curtailed since each and every street used to be dotted by ubiquitous men in uniform.
I managed to join a group of reporters who mustered courage to move towards Sopore. I was the youngest of all but was keen to go and see as to what had happened in the town where I spent formative years of my youth as a student at Government Degree College. I had and still have a special attachment with the town.
However, the journey was not smooth. We were stopped at almost a dozen places. Searches, questions and a grin look at our identity cards by the BSF and CRPF men enroute was something we could not easily ward off.
“Why are you going there? Nothing has happened,” was the response of a BSF man at one stop. “You journalists are responsible for this mess”.
Beyond Pattan, the situation was horrible. A state of fear prevailed with huge presence of forces. We somehow managed to reach Sangrama, but we were told that Sopore, Baramulla and other adjoining areas were under curfew. We had curfew passes but who would bother to honour them. After lot of struggle we managed to reach Sopore. Short of reaching near Degree College, we were stopped for long time as Governor G C Saxena had arrived amid heavy security bandobast in the town.
We finally managed to enter the area that was almost razed to ground. It was smouldering. I could not recognize the Sopore Chowk, one of our favourite spots where Samad Talkies and New Light Hotel was located. There was hardly any civilian movement. One could smell the burning of human flesh. More than 300 shops and 100 residential houses were set on fire by BSF by sprinkling gun powder. They had come under attack in the morning by militants and one of their men was killed and a rifle was snatched. There was heavy presence of BSF in the town as it was considered as “Capital of Militancy” then. As the militants managed to escape, the BSF men ran amuck, opened indiscriminate firing, set on fire everything that came their way.
Many civilians were burnt alive in shops. I was told Ghulam Nabi of New Light Hotel, who was incharge of a “Softy” machine and was known to student community by that name, had shouldered 11 men out of the area but could not do it for 12th as he himself fell to the bullets.
People braved the bullets to save others but the one side battle had a gory end. It left 53 dead, the houses and shops were reduced to ashes and Sopore town was under curfew for many days even decent burial was not allowed. A vast area of town was affected.
This was not the only incident in town which one remembers. Iqbal Market too was burnt so were other Mohallas of town from time to time but this was the worst incident, which was reported by Time magazine. The magazine had titled the news report (on January 18, 1993) “Blood tide rising: Indian forces carry out one of the worst massacres in Kashmir’s history.” This is how the magazine described the incident: “Perhaps there is a special corner in hell reserved for troopers who fire their weapons indiscriminately into a crowd of unarmed civilians. That, at least, must have been the hope of every resident who defied an army-enforced curfew in the Kashmiri town of Sopore to protest a massacre that left 55 people dead and scores injured.”
Today 20 years have passed but the scars of that black Wednesday will remain engraved on the minds of those who not only witnessed hell broke on the town but braved it with grace. Sopore has seen so much but its distinction is that it never surrendered. Salute the Zinda Dilane Sopore (brave hearts of Sopore).