Sopore: “I hope the pro-freedom leaders will together intensify the Azadi struggle. I am alive only to see the day of Azadi,” says Mohammad Shaban Shala whose son, three nephews and a relative were killed by government forces on January 6, 1993, which is remembered as Sopore Massacre, the day 57 civilians were slaughtered by paramilitary soldiers.
Shala, now 90, a resident of Shalapora is blind. He says he started losing eyesight gradually after the day he saw the bullet-riddled bodies of his family members.
“I will never forget the day. It was January 6, 1993, about 10am when some militants shot dead a BSF trooper near main chowk Sopore. Soon after the incident, a large number of BSF troopers opened fire indiscriminately on people and set fire to all the areas of Sopore market. I was on my way to Baramulla on that day when I heard about the firing. I tried to rush back to Sopore but no vehicle was available. I somehow managed to reach my residence at Shalpora where I heard that five of my family members had been killed by the government troops,” he said.
They include his son Gulam Rasool Shala, then 38, his nephews Sajad Ahmad Shala, 18, Bashir Ahmad Shala, 28, Mohammad Ashraf Shala, 17, and another relative, Gulam Rasool Sofi, 35, of Ashpora, Handwara.
“I could not understand what to do. The entire area was burning. People were crying on every side. Some people took out the dead bodies of my family members from the fruit godown near my home. All the bodies were riddled with bullets. My three nephews were unmarried while my son had four children and the other relative also had four children,” Mohammad Shaban said.
The killed family members were unloading a fruit truck at the godown when they were killed, Shala said.
“The driver of that fruit truck was a Sikh of Jammu area, but he said he was not present at the time of the firing. A Hindu boy who accompanied the driver in the truck was present but the troops took him away to their camp when they heard that he was a Hindu,” Shala said.
“The government troops looted my house after they killed my family members. After a year, my wife passed away due to the unbearable grief. I am still alive to see when we will get Azadi from this all,” Shala said.
Mohammad Abdullah Shala, a nephew of Shala, said that the Shala family never accepted the compensation offered by the government. Both he and Shala said that accepting the compensation would have been a betrayal of the cause of Azadi. The nephew said he, too, was living to see the day of Azadi.
As many as 400 shops and other structures were burnt down by the soldiers of Border Security Force (94 battalion) on that day.
The last embrace
My father (Ghulam Nabi Zargar alias Shaheen, 38) and our employee (Javed Ahmad Sheikh, of Sangrampora, 25) had been burnt alive inside the shop. We received their remains two days later. Their charred remains were fused together. They had probably embraced each other in their last moments. They had to be pulled apart. We didn’t own the shop and the owner didn’t reconstruct it. Ten years later we constructed our own shop at another place.
(Bilal Ahmad Zargar, 16, owner Shaheen Studio, a popular Xerox shop in the main chowk)
‘They burnt whatever came their way’
They burnt whatever came their way. They sprinkled gunpowder on shops and buildings fully knowing that shopkeepers and passersby had taken refuge in these shops and buildings. I was about to leave home for restaurant when we learnt that they have set ablaze the restaurant, our only source of livelihood. We tried to rush to the chowk to save it but the soldiers didn’t let us and instead threatened to kill us. Next day when we went there, it was ash. Some shopkeepers had been burnt alive. Our insurance policy had lapsed. It was a big setback. After a few days, the government paid compensation to the families whose members had been killed. Some Rajesh Pilot (then minister in the government of India) came in a helicopter and announced he will pay cash compensation to those who had lost kin and property but we didn’t take anything as we were still mourning the dead and there was so much anger. We borrowed money from our friends and relatives and build our restaurant again.
(Ghulam Hassan Bhat, owner of Khayam restaurant)
My cousin Feroz Pandith had invested everything in building the cinema (Samad Talkies). But because of the militancy, it had closed down a few years ago. He had then started Mustard Oil business. Several truckloads of oil, the first consignment, had been stored in the cinema building. The BSF soldiers had set fire to the cinema. The oil had kept fire burning for a longer time than other structures, people say. He had started oil business recently and hadn’t insured it. My cousin was heartbroken. He migrated to Srinagar. (With inputs from Asim Shah)