There was sound of a huge bang that morning, like someone blowing up a cartful of dynamite. Just before the cockcrow. Most of the townspeople were asleep. The dawn prayers had thin attendance, mostly because it gets very cold in January. By nine o’clock a military patrol was out, doing rounds of the main marketplace. Suddenly gunmen emerged from a narrow alley and shot random bullets at the party before quickly disappearing in the maze that old Sopore is. Taken rather off guard, the security detail ran back to their barracks only to emerge again as Frankenstein’s monsters, spitting hell fire. In the next fifty odd minutes, they murdered fifty five people in cold blood. And burnt the town down.
Even after all these years nobody knows for sure what transformed the BSF party into the heartless creatures that they became -- that cold January morning. Hapless people, trapped in flames, had only two choices to make and both, it turned out, cost them dearly. Stepping out of their shops meant getting bumped off on the spot. Those who hid in their shops were roasted alive. Many people who were killed on January 6, 1993, were buried without their families being able to see them one last time. The dead bodies had faces -- that smiled, loved and beamed a few hours back -- too disfigured to be kissed a final good bye. Monsters seldom heed tears.
An unfortunate bus, half-full with passengers, on its way to Sopore got caught up in the frenzy. The driver, oblivious to the savagery of the 94th battalion BSF, was flagged down. Soon charcoal gray powder blew into the vehicle. Terrified passengers froze in their seats, their hands still inside their Pherans. A stash of gunfire lit the bus up. The ill-starred men and women banged at the window-panes, begging to be let out, but their screams met no saviors. The nearby shops were burning in maroon fire with real people in them. A hundred thousand books in the local women’s college were turning to dark dust in the library. The foot soldiers of the world’s largest democracy looked on with a ghoulish glee.
Entire families were wiped out on that January morning 19 years back. A respected Sufi Pir [spiritual man] lost six members of his immediate and extended family. His two grandsons, two nephews and two cousins. The old man was unwell in his bed when news of the doom came. Women began to pull their hair out and grown-up men wept inconsolably in his mud-and-brick three storey home, often frequented by devotees. Later when the corpses of all the six young men were lined up in the lawn, someone asked the Sufi if he wanted to come out and have a last look at the lads. ‘Oh yes’, the old man said and as someone walked him outside he whispered in the most feeble voice, ‘I had a dream last night and they told me that we shall take you to hear things I never imagined. I think this is the Taebeer [interpretation]’.
I feel somewhat uneasy writing this, recalling mostly from memory, from the pastiches of ugly nightmares of growing up in Kashmir of the 90’s. Ofcourse I was too young to comprehend how people in flesh and blood could get so godawful and burn fellow humans alive. It smelled of fear and flesh. We heard the wails coming from a distance. That evening the smoke’s twist was awfully slow.
To my fellow townspeople,
cut to merciless death on January 6, 1993.
We remember you.