The blocking of a bureaucrat’s vehicle on August 15 brought a massacre upon Aripanthan village, of which people remember who fell where, how the blood flowed down the road, how the brain spilled out of a shattered skull
Aripanthan (Beerwah): While the entire Kashmir Valley despises Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti for presiding over a continuing massacre that has claimed 75 lives so far, most of them in the age group of 15 to 35 years, former chief minister Omar Abdullah is an equally despised figure in Beerwah, the constituency he represented in his first stint in the state assembly.
People say Abdullah maintained a despicable silence over the massacre the Indian paramilitaries carried out at Aripanthan village on August 16, a day after India celebrated its Independence Day. Four persons were killed when paramilitary forces rained bullets on a group of villagers who had assembled during a day of shutdown in the populous central Kashmir village.
“Omar Abdullah vaguely mentioned the killings in Aripanthan. Pro-India politicians in Kashmir do not miss a chance to score political points against an adversary, but all of them are mere puppets of India who deliberately ignore the tragedy that befalls on people due to the action of government forces,” the villagers said in one voice.
For a time people felt that Omar Abdullah would make an issue of the Aripanthan massacre and agitate to bring the killers to justice. “But he (Abdullah) is no different from Mehbooba,” they now say.
The August 16 massacre is as fresh in people’s memories as if it happened yesterday. The Aripanthan chowk, rechristened by villagers as Burhan Chowk, is desolate and melancholic. Glass fragments and rocks lie splattered on all the roads, which have been blackened from the soot of burnt tyres. A Pakistani flag flutters on a mighty Chinar tree, while green flags hang loose upon tree branches. The air is filled with grief and with defiance.
Every villager remembers the gory scene when terror was let loose by paramilitary troops. Everyone remembers who fell where, even the cries and wails and the direction in which the blood flowed when it emerged from bullet wounds and spilled onto the road.
A small group of young and elderly men are huddled near a small shop in the chowk. They are unanimous — the police and CRPF action was unprovoked — negating the official claim that the troops opened fire on people after being hit by stones hurled by them.
Ghulam Hassan, an elderly villager with a flowing beard, said the massacre was in the offing since the morning of August 15, when villagers stopped the vehicle of Beerwah’s sub-divisional magistrate when she was on her way to unfurl the Indian flag.
“On every other day the boys would let her go. She travelled in an ambulance, not in the official car. On August 15 the ambulance was not allowed passage. She went back, brought an escort of CRPF and police, and moved ahead,” Hassan said. “On their return, the escort fired teargas shells and pellets on people. This made the boys angry and they hurled stones.”
Villagers said that about 80 boys sustained injuries that day. Two of them received grievous wounds in their eyes; they were later shifted to Srinagar for treatment. Each boy was hit by 35 pellets on an average, the villagers claimed.
“During the night, at about 10.30, police and CRPF men came to arrest youth. People came out of their homes after announcements were made from mosques. We resisted the troops. They left. They came again for the arrests at midnight, but we again resisted,” Hassan said. “Nobody slept during the night. At 2:30am, some villagers retired to their homes, others remained on the roads,” Hassan recalled.
By morning, things had settled down. The villagers returned to their homes for rest. It was the proverbial lull before the storm.
“At about 7:30am, August 16 morning, we heard loud bangs. Terrified, we went out,” Feroze Ahmad, 21, (name changed), said. “I also came out. People were buying milk and newspapers.”
Ahmad, whose left hand is still wrapped in layers of bandages, said that he was one among the few boys who were at the front of the crowd and saw CRPF men, backed by police, open fire on people.
“There were 30 to 40 people in the chowk. I thought teargas canisters and pellets were being fired. Boys were shouting slogans and had started to hurl stones on the troops to stop their advance in the chowk,” he said.
Ahmad pointed towards a spot on the roadside where he became the first man to be hit by bullets.
“I realized they were firing bullets when I was hit on the right hand,” he said. “I did not realize how much blood was streaming out of it. It was so sudden. I was asked by my friend Javaid to leave the spot. The moment he told me that, a bullet hit his head. His brain and blood spilled out of his broken skull. He fell before me. I couldn’t do anything except watch terrified my friend die. His brain had come out of the skull. He did not utter a word.”
Ahmad continued, “Another friend, Farooq, ran to pick up Javaid. The moment he bent down to lift him, he was hit by bullets. He, too, fell. Another man, Javed Ahmad Najar, was hit by bullets. Touqeer went to save him, but he is now lying in a critical state in a Srinagar hospital.”
Ahmad said the intention of the CRPF was to kill. Most of the victims were hit in the head or in the abdomen.
“Among the eight injured, two — Touqeer and Farooq Ahmad — are still admitted at SKIMS and are in critical state. Only god knows whether they will survive or not. Two of the injured were women, both hit by bullets. All the injured were shot in the head, abdomen, hand or shoulders,” Ahmad said.