23 years of Bijbehara Massacre: Guilty yet to be punished’

Bijbehara: A pro-freedom rally was organized at Jamia Masjid Bijbehara in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district on Saturday to remember the victims of “Bijbehara massacre” on their 23rd anniversary. The rally was attended by a large number of people while the atmosphere reverberated with freedom slogans in the town amid demands to punish the killers responsible for the gory massacre.

Twenty-three years have passed but the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel from 74th Battalion responsible for butchering Islamabad (Anantnag) district have not been brought to book. Among those killed, 25 were students.

According to locals thousands of people had gathered in the town that day after Friday prayers to protest against the siege of Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar where some militants were holed up.

“As the peaceful march reached near Goriwan locality, paramilitary BSF personnel blocked the road and did not allow the protestors to proceed. As anti-India slogans reverberated in air, the BSF men fired on the unarmed protestors, killing at least 40 persons on the spot and injuring more than 200 others,” the locals said.

“BSF personnel resorted to indiscriminate firing for more than 10 minutes. Even those people were targeted and shot at who had come forward to carry the dead and injured. Hospital ambulances and medical staff were also denied access to the injured persons.”

Soon after the massacre, the government claimed that BSF personnel fired in self-defense as a group of armed militants fired at them, a claim refuted by eyewitnesses and human rights organizations.

On November 13, 1993, Inquiry Magistrate submitted a report vide number EN/BFC/93/23-24 and concluded that firing on the procession was absolutely unprovoked and the claim made by the troopers that they fired in self defence after militant firing is baseless and concocted.

The inquiry report further stated that the security personnel have committed offence out of vengeance and their barbarous act was deliberate and well planned. The report indicted Deputy Commandant of BSF, JK Radola, for tacit approval given by him for indiscriminate and un-provoked firing. Despite the magisterial inquiry, justice has been eluding the families of the victims from past 23 years.

Government of India conducted two enquiries and the National Human Rights Commission also conducted a probe. In March 1994 the government indicted the BSF for firing on crowd without provocation and charged 13 BSF officers with murder. A General Security Force Court Trial conducted in 1996, however, led to their acquittal. When the NHRC sought to examine the transcripts of the trials in order to satisfy itself that the BSF had made a genuine attempt to secure convictions, then Vajpayee-led Indian government refused.

The NHRC then moved to Supreme Court for a review. In September 2000, the Supreme Court dismissed the case. (CNS)

Police lied about the incident: Wajahat Habibullah

“Bijbehara massacre was gruesome. BSF firing on innocent civilians was unjustified. Most unfortunate part was that police lied about the incident and claimed that BSF fired upon protesters in self-defence while the fact was that BSF butchered protesters without any justification,” Wajahat Habibullah who was the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir in 1993 said adding that he tried his best to persuade Government of India to prosecute the BSF men responsible for the gory massacre.

“I was told that some men responsible for the act have been punished but information was never made to public. When I insisted that information should be made public about the court of inquiry I was told that it will go against the interest of national security,” he said and added that it is an open fact that killers were not punished even though Justice Ranganathan Mishra and Justice Verma had vehemently pitched for the prosecution of guilty BSF men,” he said.

Pertinently, Border Security Force (BSF) personnel from 74th Battalion had killed 51 peaceful protestors in Bijbehara town of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district on 22 October 1993 when they were protesting against Hazratbal siege.

Wajahat Habibullah said that it was a fabricate lie on part of police that shortly after the massacre claimed that BSF men fired in self defence after militants attacked them. “I being the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir at that time visited the spot and found that no militant had fired upon the BSF men. It was a blatant lie,” he said.

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