Srinagar: On January 20, 1990, Jagmohan’s first television address as governor of the state stunned me. It was very provocative.
He said, “I will not take any salary. I will just take Rs 1000 to meet my personal expenses. I promise you a clean administration. If anybody creates a law and order problem, meray hatoon say amun ka pata khisak jaye ga (the cards of peace I am carrying will slip away from my hands).”
It was a clear warning to lesser mortals like me. Behave, or I teach you a lesson. In less than 24 hours the threat was carried out.
Chacha, as Sheikh Abdul Kabeer, father of JKLF commander Sheikh Abdul Hamid, came to meet me at my home. The speech had frightened him as well.
“They (the government) are going for a massive search operation. What shall we do now?” I had no answers but I told him to stay calm.
I told him that if they have decided to conduct searches, there is nothing we can do about it. Let them come and search our houses. We have nothing to hide.
By the time Chacha stood up to leave, his face had fallen. I felt sorry for him. The sun also did not shine on that day. Several women had been molested by the troops at Chotta Bazar during the first ever search operation in Kashmir, shocking the city dwellers. The people poured onto streets to register protest.
Processions were taken out from various parts of Srinagar to express solidarity with the victims. The troops intercepted a procession Badiyar and fired at it indiscriminately, killing at least 50 people on the spot. I was part of another procession that escaped slaughter.
The morning of January 22, 1990 was very painful for me. I was awakened by Chacha.
“There are 10 bodies in the control room. Get up, we have to bury them,” he said.
I murmured something. Most probably I abused him. Why? I do not know. I was out in the graveyard in 15 minutes. Many people were waiting for the bodies. The truck came with the bodies and things went out of control. A few graves had been dug. I think we buried the bodies without offering Nimaaz-e-jinaza (funeral prayers). If at all it was offered, I did not participate in it.
My elder brother was taking photographs of the bodies. I appreciated his wisdom. The identity of the bodies could not be ascertained. In fact it never was notwithstanding my brother’s efforts.
A police man accompanying the bodies told us that 52 people had been killed on the spot and 250 more had been injured.
A few bodies were buried at Sarai Bala as well. We went to the graveyard. Muhammad Ashraf, a friend of mine, was there. He too had received a minor injury at Gaw Kadal. His eighty-year-old neighbour was among the dead.
“What a lucky man he has been. He died a martyr’s death after enjoying life for 80 years,” he said.
I had no comments to offer. I looked at the horizon. The sunset looked different. Kashmir had changed.