Conflict

Hawal Massacre turns 29: ‘Can’t forget the expressions on the faces of the fallen’

This day, 29 years ago, lanes of Downtown Srinagar were flooded with mourners after the assassination of their ‘beloved’ cleric Mirwaiz Maulana Farooq. Later as some of those mourners were massacred during the funeral procession of Mirwaiz, it only created a symbolic shift in Raj Bhavan and ushered a perpetual period of elusive justice.

When a wailing voice from Nigeen Mansion informed a certain journalist about the cleric’s assassination on May 21, 1990, his long fears came true. The mourner on the other side was the cleric’s teenage son, who, at 17, was aspiring to become a software engineer, but had to step into his father’s shoes instead.

His remark that day was quite resounding of the times Kashmir was sliding in: “Molvi Saabus haz laayikh gooli (Molvi Sahib has been shot)!”

The assassination of the popular priest at once flooded the restive streets of Downtown, Srinagar—the citadel of Mirwaiz family—with chest-beating mourners. The ensued bloodbath finally drew curtains on Jagmoham’s notorious stint in Kashmir.

But before the massacre, came the threat.

And the man who first conveyed it—before a high-ranking officer—was the late cleric Mirwaiz Maulana Farooq’s scribe friend from Old City.

A young Mirwaiz Umar with his father Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq.

A month before gunners would storm Mirwaiz’s Nigeen Mansion and fire to kill, Ghulam Nabi Khayal had seen certain publications in Pakistan denouncing the cleric as “stooge of India”.

“This smear campaign stemmed shortly after Mirwaiz Farooq’s meeting with George Fernandes, the then Union Minister for Kashmir Affairs and his statement that termed Rubaya Sayeed kidnapping case as ‘un-Islamic’,” Khayal said.

He would later return home with those alarming clippings from Pakistan and alert his priest pal. “I met and briefed him about the smear campaign being run in his name, but he shrugged it off,” Khayal recalled.

In the second week of May, the scribe and the Maulana were again face to face, inside his Nigeen Mansion.

“During our conversation, then additional DIG police Azhar Nomani called him and told him that government had some inputs on the possible attack on him,” Khayal recalled the vital moment days before the cleric’s killing. “Government wanted to put him under security cover, but the cleric refused because he didn’t want to put his followers through unnecessary security hassles.”

And then, it happened.

Soon, Mizwaiz’s namesake with whom he had hogged headlines over the much-talked about Double-Farooq Accord publicly accused the then home minister of India, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, for Mirwaiz’s assassination.

But years later, Mufti’s daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, would term the then Dr Farooq Abdullah-led ruling National Conference government as the “mastermind” behind the killing. However, a new twist came many years later, when one of the founders of Muslim United Front termed the assassination as the job of “our own”.

Barring this classic broadside, no evidence could ever bare out the conspiracy behind the cleric’s assassination.

Mirwaiz Farooq at the historic Jamia Masjid.

To catch their beloved cleric’s last glimpse, sea of mourners had assembled at SKIMS, where he was rushed for emergency treatment. And soon as they took his body towards his native place Rajouri Kadal, CRPF fired on his funeral procession at Hawal area of Old City.

The firing reportedly came from a big bunker built on the main road near Islamia College. “Amid firing, the mourners were reciting Kalima,” recalls Rafiq Ahmad, a survivor who was the part of the procession. “They knew their possible fate, as the forces were firing to kill.”

As bullets were showered on the mourners, they ran for cover in nearby alleys and bylanes. It created a stampede-like situation. “The firing lasted for 10 minutes,” Riyaz continues. “Some bullets even hit Mirwaiz’s dead body!”

Those who survived the slaughter ended up nursing physical and mental injuries.

At a stone’s throw from the carnage point, Farooq Ahmad often isolates himself from his family and retires to his room to overcome the regular bouts of depression.

His address—Mashali Mohalla—itself evokes the memories of Kashmir’s chilling past. Barely three months after Hawal Massacre, nine persons were gunned down in his locality by paramilitary BSF personnel on August 6, 1990.

But that day at Hawal, Farooq was waiting, as an eager bystander on a sidewalk, to join the procession. Soon as guns clattered, he saw mourners falling and running on the road. “The lane I ran for cover got flooded with mourners,” he says. “I saw a man running with his bullet-torn finger. Later some of these injured would be ferried to hospitals on handcarts. It was an unforgettable sight.”

Now, whenever he’s reminded of it, he turns restive. “I can’t forget the painful expressions on the faces of the fallen. Our heads are still a mess because of that carnage.”

Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq.

The mourners had somehow managed to take Mirwaiz’s body to Islamia High School where it was kept overnight. Next morning, two collective funeral prayers were offered for the fallen — one in Islamia School and another in Eidgah. They were finally laid to rest in the Martyrs graveyard—which had started assimilating the conflict casualties.

For the next 15 days, entire Kashmir observed strike against the bloodbath. But the old city—housing the diehards of the Mirwaiz—became a massive mourning zone.

Soon, in memory of martyrs, a memorial was established at Hawal. It mentions 70 names, but the government puts the figure at 27.

Martyr’s memorial at Hawal, Srinagar.

And then, barely a week after the massacre, on May 26, 1990, Jagmohan was expelled. But, Mufti Sayeed, then home minister of India, defended the ruthless governor’s Kashmir handling.

“By sending Jagmohan to Kashmir we made major gains,” Mufti said in an interview on June 30, 1990. “He set up this nucleus of officials to fill the administrative vacuum. And we established the authority of the state.”

Five days later that interview in which he gave himself a clean chit, saying, ‘I’m a soft target’, Mufti implemented the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in J&K. The law giving sweeping powers to forces set off years of widespread crackdowns, detention and torture in Kashmir.

Jagmohan’s successor Girish Chandar Saxena hurriedly appeared on the Srinagar television saying “Mirwaiz’s killers have been identified and would be brought to book within no time”. He announced a ‘time-bound’ inquiry into the massacre within a period of two months.

In reply to an RTI application in 2013, the then divisional commissioner Kashmir had stated that a criminal case vide FIR 35/1990 was registered into the incident at Nowhatta police station. “However, there is no information with the department as to whether there was any inquiry, judicial or magisterial, ordered by the government,” he had stated.

On a petition by a human rights activist, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in 2014 ordered a time bound inquiry into the massacre and sought a report from the government within two months.

“Despite various communications addressed to the DGP, divisional commissioner Kashmir and also from secretary of the commission, authorities are unmoved. In view of the insensitive approach of the authorities, the commission is left with no option but to entrust the inquiry to the investigating wing of this commission,” the SHRC had stated.

Epitaph of the Hawal Massacre memorial.

Then in 2017, SHRC’s Investigating Officer, Masood Ahmed Beigh, in his interim report held 15 CRPF personnel including three officers of 69 Battalion responsible for the Hawal Massacre.

Beigh, in his interim report, castigated the first Investigating Officer N. Sarvada (IPS), then ASP Police Headquarters of the case for negligence and biased investigation.

“N. Sarvada who conducted the investigation of the case from May to August 1990 hasn’t recorded the statements of the eyewitnesses and he has only recorded the statements of CRPF officials who in their statements have held militants responsible for the attack on the CRPF,” the interim report reads.

While failing to obtain the list of the deceased and injured persons, Sarvada, Beigh said, indulged in a flight of fancy. And since the incident is almost three-decade-old, the evidence, if any, except the statements of witnesses, would’ve lost its relevance especially due to carelessness and deliberate attempts on behalf of Sarvada, the interim report said.

The Court as per the report rejected the CRPF claim that they fired only after coming under attack from militants.

“It is also ironical that CRPF has claimed that they couldn’t see the coffin though it was carried by the mourners on their shoulders,” the court observed, according to the interim report. “The Court is of firm belief that the CRPF men resorted to firing for excess than it was actually called for and thus holds CRPF personnel responsible for the act.”

The Court of Inquiry conducted by a Board of Officers including IGP NES-CRPF M.P. Singh, VSM-DIG (P) CRPF N.K. Tiwari and Commandant 60 Battalion CRPF R.K. Sharma held 15 CRPF men from 69 Battalion responsible for the massacre.

Funeral of Mirwaiz Farooq.

“The commandant and the deputy commandant of the CRPF battalion were identified as the main culprits in the case,” the advocates heading the legal cell of Awami Action Committee said. “But later they threatened the witnesses so naturally, no one was punished.”

But since majority of the deceased were from the old city, nobody seems to have kept the track of the victims’ families, as most of them have shifted their residences.

Meanwhile, 29 years after he broke the news of his father’s killing to scribe Khayal, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq terms the Hawal massacre as another painful memory of that tragic day.

“Justice can be delivered anytime,” he said, “but going by the history of the massacres inflicted on us over the past 30 years, it looks very unlikely.”

 

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