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That Bus to Bandipora

That Bus to Bandipora

The neighbour who brought the news was a mute person. Through his gestures, he explained how he witnessed the chilling episode.


Like every other morning, Afzal woke up late again. His father, Majeed, disliked this habit and always advised him to wake up early. His mother came into his room and told him that his father was angry as he was unwell and wanted him to buy bread from Kandur, but then he had to go by himself as Afzal had woken up late. 

Afzal went out of his room and saw his father in the lobby as he was leaving for his office. “He looked at me and said nothing.”

Giving silent treatment to Afzal was his way of expressing anger towards him. 

Majeed left for his office that was in Bandipora. 

Afzal also started his day as usual. It was in the afternoon, when one of Afzal’s neighbours came and told his family that Majeed was dead. 

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***

29 years ago, on 6 January 1993, militants lobbed a grenade at BSF patrolling party, and also snatched an LMG from one of the paramilitary men, in Main Chowk. It led to a gunfight in which one militant and two BSF personnel were injured—one of them later succumbed.  

In retaliation, the BSF boarded on a bus that was leaving from Sopore to Bandipora and fired upon the passengers indiscriminately, in which 11 people were killed including Majeed. 

Only three people survived — Assadullah Lone, a farmer from the outskirts of Sopore, Mehra Begum, a woman from Doabgah Village, and the driver of the bus. 

The driver, who was from Pattan, fled from the bus under the attack.

The other survivor, Assadullah took three bullets—one in his arm, the other in his leg and third in his abdomen. Mehra was also shot in the arm. 

Soon the forces splashed paraffin and set the entire market on fire. There were people inside shops, who had fled after hearing the firing shots. They were roasted alive.

By the time the deadly dust settled down, 57 people were killed, 27 houses, around 400 commercial establishments, a cinema (Samad Talkies), a women’s college (Islamia College), and a few bank branches were gutted. The estimated loss of property was around Rs 30 Crores in 1993. 

Two First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed in relation to the Sopore massacre. 

The informant Syed Mohammad Ilyas, a lawyer and President, Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam, Sopore filed FIR no. 8/1993 under sections 302 [murder], 307 [attempt to murder] and 436 [Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy houses etc.] of the Ranbir Penal Code [RPC] relating to the killing and destruction of property by the 94 Battalion BSF. 

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In comparison, the BSF filed FIR no. 9/1993 under sections 392, 302 [murder], 307 [attempt to murder], 436 [Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy houses etc.] RPC, 3/25 Indian Arms Act, and 4 (iii) TADA [Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act] in relation to cross-firing and subsequent damage and deaths. 

Both FIRs were taken up by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 20 January 1993. 

A one-man Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Amarjeet Choudhary of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh was also set up by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir on 30th January 1993 but the Commission’s term expired on 30th of April, 1994 and no report on the Sopore massacre was submitted.

Twenty years later, on 4 December 2013, a closure report with regard to both FIRs was filed before the TADA Court. 

The CBI took statements of 115 persons including 54 firemen, 3 doctors, 11 civilians and 5 personnel of the BSF. The federal agency concluded that during the investigation, the witnesses examined by the local police and CBI, were “unable to identify the BSF personnel involved in the incident and they could not give details of the firing or cross-firing” and that “thorough investigation could not yield any result for the reasons mentioned above”. 

Stating that the accused BSF personnel have “already been tried and convicted for the alleged offences u/s 302, 307 & 436 RPC” by BSF Court Martial (i.e. General Security Force Court constituted under BSF Act, 1968), the CBI urged that the case be closed in light of such findings.

However, on 28 June 2014, three persons — Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal, Mohammad Abdullah Shalla and Ghulam Rasool Ganai who lost their family and relatives in the massacre filed a protest petition before the TADA Court urging the Court to conduct further investigations into FIR 8/93 noting that “the investigations by the CBI have been incomplete and clearly affected by an interest to protect the perpetrators of the crimes. 

On 14th July 2014, the court ordered the CBI to submit all documents supporting the closure report before the court in response to which the CBI in its submission before the court held that “no person or party including the applicant” should be allowed to have access to the documents gathered by the CBI.

On 30 July 2015, the parties were informed that the judge of the TADA court had been transferred and a new judge was now in place, but no powers had been notified. The case remains pending.

“There has been no proper, fair, effective and independent investigation, and in fact, the CBI appears to be invested in shielding the perpetrators in the instant case,” said Ahsan Untoo, International Forum for Justice Human Rights (IFJHR) JK chairman, who filed several petitions before State Human Rights Commission, seeking an investigation into the Sopore Massacre. 

The CBI in its response has stated that none of the local people/eyewitnesses in this case “volunteered to come forward”. 

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But Untoo responded that the investigative agencies, particularly CBI, had at no point sought to contact the victims/survivors and eyewitnesses. “The petitioner in the instant case has knowledge of numerous persons willing to cooperate with the investigations even on today’s date. Therefore, the representations of the CBI that cooperation was not forthcoming in this case are completely false.”

The case was however closed in September 2019.

***

The neighbour who had brought the news of Majeed’s death was a mute person. 

“Through his gestures, he broke the news to us,” Afzal recalled. 

That neighbour had witnessed the massacre and had checked Majeed’s identity card as well. 

Abdul Majeed Sofi

The sudden death panicked everyone in Afzal’s home. “I remember my mother, grandmother and my aunt running around like crazy,” he said. 

In midst of all the hue and cry, another neighbour, a woman, came to Afzal’s home and told them that she had met Majeed that morning and he had told her he was not going to Bandipora but Srinagar that day, as he had heard about that a firing had happened in Main Chowk.

Now the family was waiting and hoping for that the mute neighbour to be wrong. 

There was a three-storey house adjacent to Afzal’s house and there was a woman sitting on the third storey. She was looking around and keeping an eye at everyone who entered the Mohalla. 

“And suddenly, she yelled, ‘Maj soab aaw’,” Afzal recalled. 

The boy ran out of the gate to hug his father but as soon as he reached out of the gate, a cry escaped his lips. 

His father has not come; he was being carried on a cot. 

Afzal was barely 10 when he became an orphan. He later came to know from the survivors that his father had told everyone in the bus to read Kalima, as the end was near.

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