Bandipora: The sound of chisels and hammers is omnipresent in the village of Bounpora, in Saderkoot area of Bandipora. The main profession here is stone carving, which sustains a secondary industry: of bakeries. The dozens of bakers around bring the stone-carvers fresh bread to keep them going.
All day the chisels and hammers sound, but there was a day when the village resounded with the deafening sound of bullets. The date was October 5, 1996. The local Ikhwan militia, which had turned itself into a political party, ‘Awami League’, was celebrating its day-old election victory.
At about 7.30 on a cold October evening, a man came looking for Ghulam Qadir Dar at his house. His family members hid him and told the man that Ghulam Qadir was not at home. “My family suspected something wrong,” Qadir says. “The Ikhwan had taken me captive nine months ago and released me after a ransom of 25,000 rupees was paid. But the arrival of the man that day was more alarming. We had casted vote against Kuka Parray, the chief commander of the Ikhwan, who had stood against the National Conference’s Akbar Lone. Awami League, Kuka Parray’s party, had been declared victorious the previous day. Now he was out on a killing spree to exterminate his foes.”
In the past, Kuka Parray and his men had often asked Qadir to join their ranks. “I always refused as everyone knew what atrocities they were committing. They offered me the rank of a commander with 30-40 armed men under my command,” Qadir says.
“I knew this man who had come looking for me. He did not do anything and left without saying a word. Then, on suggestion of my family, I went upstairs to hide in the attic. From there I saw that the man (Qadir won’t reveal his identity) had left the gate of our compound open. Through that open gate, about 30 Ikhwanis headed by Abdul Rashid Parray, better known as Rashid Billa, barged into our house and opened fire from their rifles.”
Qadir’s son, Abdul Qayoom Dar, who was 16 at that time, recalls the day: “We were all in the corridor discussing some business. Our cousins had also come that day. I saw everything unfolding in front of my eyes. My mother and sister were hit by bullets in their chests. They collapsed at the door. My elder brother Salaam fell into my arms when bullets pierced through his chest. He died instantly in my arms.”
The spraying of bullets killed Ghulam Qadir’s wife Hajra, 40, his daughter Jawa, 18, elder son Abdul Salaam Dar, 25, and nephew Abdul Rasheed Dar, 22.
The firing left injured Qadir’s nephew Mohammad Yusuf Dar, who was hit in the stomach, Hilal Ahmad Dar, another son, hit in the chest, and Ghulam Mohiuddin Dar, who was injured by a bullet that grazed his leg. The three of them were taken to a hospital by neighbours who came running, jumping out of windows or breaking their doors which had been bolted from the outside before the Ikhwanis came to Qadir’s house.
Qayoom saved the life of his younger brother Hilal, who had received bullets in his chest. “I tore off my shirt and inserted the cloth in his wounds. Then I dropped him down and ran out to find my sister and mother. They were lying dead in the corridor. On the veranda my cousin Saleem had fallen to death. When I saw all this I thought I was dead too. Then I lost consciousness and when I awoke, I was in a room where all the dead bodies were laid in a row.”
Ghulam Qadir, who was hiding in the attic, heard only the shrieks of his family members. “At first I thought they were firing in the air, but when I heard shouts of ‘Maarikhhaa Khudayo’ (Oh God we have been killed) and ‘Tchor ha marikh’ (Four have been killed), I ran downstairs. There I saw four of my family members lying dead in the corridor. And those men were still firing and running towards other houses.”
The short and stout Qadir, now 70, lost his mental balance for months after that horror. He also left his job. “I couldn’t resume normal life,” he explains pithily.
Haunted by nightmares, Qadir says of those days, “A loud sound would wake me up every now and then in the night. The sound of those bullets I still hear, echoing all the time.”
Qayoom says that years later another sister of his died when she was in labour at LD hospital. “Doctors said that it was some stress that her heart had been unable to bear.”
Spiritual healing and support from relatives helped Qadir to recover. The five children left behind by his elder son Salaam gave him reason to live.
Qadir had been a truck driver. When he could not return to that work, he began selling his property.”That was how I raised my children and grandchildren,” he says.
“The only thing that keeps me going is the hope that one day these criminals, for all their political and police backing, will be brought to justice. That will be the day I sleep in peace,” Qadir says with tears rising to his eyes. “If I die fighting these criminals, I will seek justice in the world hereafter. That would be the best justice any court can give.”
From Qadir’s house, the Ikhwanis went to another house, that of his neighbour Saif-ud-Din Dar. He, too, had voted in favour of Akbar Lone.
We were having dinner in the kitchen when Rashid Billa shouted from the door, Vote trowa nationleo? (Did you cast your vote, O nationals?) Then they broke the door and shot dead Saif-ud-Din Dar, firing bullets into his chest,” recounts Farooq Ahmad, Saif-ud-Din’s son.
The killing spree did not end there. Two more men, Ghulam Nabi Dar and Ghulaam Rasool Dar, were killed in front of their families.
From the attic where he was hiding, Ghulam Qadir recognised Rashid Billa, Mohammad Ayoob Dar, Wali Mohammad Mir, Nazir Ahmad Wani, Bashir Ahmad Pehlu alias “Band”, Nazir Ahmad Parrey alias “Fauji”, Bashir Ahmad Parray alias “Bilal”, Manzoor Ahmad Reshi, and Manzoor Ahamad Parray [a cousin of Kuka Parray], all from villages close to Saderkoot. Among the nine, six have already died. Abdul Rashid Billa, Mohammad Ayub, Wali Mohammad and Manzoor Ahmad are at large.
Qadir says that the police refused to write the names of the killers in the FIR. “Only after the then home minister Ali Mohammad Sagar and the revenue minister Abdul Ahad Vakil visited our house, did the police put the names on record.”
Even after the FIR, the Ikhwanis continued to roam free and several times tortured the family members to take the FIR back. Ghulam Qadir says, “Once we were abducted by more than 30 Ikhwanis led by Billa and taken to CJM Sopore where he forced us to give statements in front of the magistrate to exonerate Billa and the others.” Later, Ghulam Qadir explained everything to the magistrate who agreed to strike off the statement from records.
Farooq Ahmad tells of another such incident: “We were taken to a hotel at Lal Chowk where Billa tried to kill Ghulam Qadir. I jumped at Qadir and shouted, If you want to kill him, then you should kill us all.”
The victim families find it insulting that the Jammu & Kashmir police is guarding Billa’s house. “Why is he being guarded by men in uniform? I have lost faith in the police department,” Qadir says.