“They started entering houses and shooting people at point blank range,” Ghulam Qadeer Baig recalls that fateful day of May 21, 1990, which is remembered as Hawal massacre in the collective memory of Kashmir.
The killings by the Border Security Force troopers took place on a day when people were participating in the funeral procession of Mirwaiz Farooq.
Ghulam Qadeer’s brother-in-law, Farooq Ahmad Baig, son of Mohammad Abdullah Baig, was among the 67 people killed in the Hawal massacre – one of the worst massacres in Kashmir’s recent history.
“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” Qadeer recalls. “How could I forget it? We were helpless and at the mercy of those who had come to kill us,” he says and then lapses into a melancholic silence. Clogged by memories that come back to haunt him, he needs these pauses to recollect his thoughts.
His wife, Parvaiza, chips in when her husband fails to express his pain. “My brother was one among the people killed that day,” she says. He was participating in the funeral procession of Mirwaiz Farooq. “He was just paying his respects to a dead man,” she says. “Why did they have to kill him?”
Recounting the events of that day, she says, “On hearing gun-shots, many people ran and hid themselves in a neighbour’s house. I was one among them. That is why I could not see my brother being killed.”
Casting a longing glance at the picture of her brother, Parvaiza is torn between the consolation of not having to bear the sight of her brother being shot in front of her eyes, and the regret of not being able to see him alive for the last time.
Although Ghulam Qadeer has survived that horrific day, he hasn’t been able to come out of it without scars. He says the BSF troopers entered his neighbour’s house and shot him and his son, and then their house was set on fire.
The troopers next barged into Basheer Ahmad Baig’s house. “They killed him and his two sons,” says Qadeer. “His wife was also shot in the chest, but she survived along with their third son.”
The names of the victims and the number of people killed that day may change, but there’s one common feature in all the memories of survivors: troopers barging into people’s homes and shooting civilians, and not even sparing women and children.
“My son, who was ten years old then, was also shot at by the BSF troopers,” says Qadeer. “But thanks to Allah, the bullets missed him and hit the wall behind him,” he says. “The troopers also came towards me. I was sitting in this very room, with my young daughter in my lap,” he recalls sitting in his room. One of the troopers placed the barrel of his gun on Qadeer’s chest. “But he eventually changed his mind and did not shoot me,” he says.
Parvaiza’s sobs are the only intermittent sounds in her room. The silence that fills the room is deafening. Abdul Farooq’s mother, Makhta Begum, 60, enters the room.
“They came and snatched him from my arms. The troopers followed Farooq Ahmad right from the procession to his house. When he came in, his mother held him close to her chest — to protect him. “He was shot in front of me,” Makhta Begum recalls that day when her son was killed. She recounts that day in a matter of fact tone, as if she is bereft of all feelings and emotions.
Later, the Beig family went to the Nowhatta police station and lodged a complaint against the troopers. “One of the BSF trooper’s cap fell in our home. The name inscribed on it was Pokhla. We took it to the police station and lodged a complaint against the trooper,” says Qadeer. But the trooper was suspended from duty only for six months.
Pokhla’s suspension could not bring them justice. If anything, it made their lives even worse. “We complained in the hope that he would be jailed and justice would be done to us,” says Parvaiza. “But they only suspended him for some time,” she says. “He was living in the area around our house and we did not want to face the consequences of standing up against a trooper.”
The family eventually had to move out of the locality and shift to Pampar in Pulwom district. They were on the move for about ten years, constantly shifting to Zoonimar and Soura. It cost Ghulam Qadeer his livelihood. “We lost our business and are living like paupers now,” says Ghulam Qadeer whose back problem restricts him from taking up regular jobs.
Eventually, they had to return to their own home in Hawal, where the ghosts of May 21, 1990 still haunt the family.