‘CRPF men fired on people injured and crying for help. I pretended to be dead’
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On January, 21, 1990, when a procession for 'Azadi' was marching towards downtown Srinagar, CRPF men opened fire, killing 51 protesters. The injured filled every city hospital.
Twenty-three years later, the police's case on indiscriminate firing stands closed without investigation. The government failed to present a response in eight State Human Rights Commission hearings on a petition for investigation and prosecution of the troops. Recently, a division bench comprising J A Kawoos and Rafiq Fida ordered a special inquiry by the commission's own probe wing.
What happened at Gawkadal, or bridge of the cow, was an event that marked the beginning of a long phase of bloodshed and impunity in Kashmir. Songs have been written on it; Kashmiri rapper M C Kash has come out with Bridge of no return as a tribute.
A police officer in the control room couldn't work after seeing "that pile of bodies". He sought voluntary retirement. Today, he says he doesn't want to be named because he is still scarred. "DIG S S Ali sent me to check the bodies. I remember I found three men still alive. They had been put with the dead," he said. "I have lived that day again and again all these years."
The Indian Express spoke to two of the survivors. Farooq Ahmad Wani, 60, who retired recently as chief engineer, recalls he was "fired upon from point-blank range and left to bleed to death". He was picked up by a police truck that had arrived for the bodies.
Zahir-ud-din, then 25, had just started practice as a lawyer. He escaped unhurt but "helplessly" saw people he knew "die when the soldiers opened indiscriminate fire on the peaceful procession".
The account of Wani, then an executive engineer, forms part of the basis of the SHRC probe.
"I left early morning on duty. There was curfew. I started walking towards the DC's office. I was stopped by CRPF and police personnel at Jahangir Chowk. They instead asked me to to walk with the procession to get to the DC's office," he said.