On 6 of January, 1993 at least personnel of the 94 Battalion of the Border Security Force [BSF] from the Fruit Mandi Camp, Sopore led by the Commanding Officer of the 94th Batallion S. Thangappan shot and killed 46 persons (55 as per media reports) including one woman and at least two teenagers, injuring 10-20 others. Many of those killed were shopkeepers/traders working in the Main Chowk, Sopore. BSF personnel burnt down the Sopore Chowk area, on both sides of the Tehsil Road over a stretch of around 2 kilometers including roadside areas of Shahabad, Bobimir Sahab, Muslim Peer, Shallapora and Kralteng. The property burnt down included around 500 shops, 30 houses, a cinema hall-Samad Talkies, a Women’s Degree College, a public school, 4 or 5 bank branches and 4 vehicles.
The CBI was assigned investigation of the case by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir on 23.01.1993 and filed a closure report listing its findings and subsequently appealing for the case to be shut on 16.07.2013-more than twenty years after the massacre. According to the closure report filed by the CBI before the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar the Sopore massacre is the result of “cross-firing” during an “encounter” between “militants” who ambushed an “army convoy” of five guard vehicles en route to Kupwara, blasted an Improvised Explosive Device [IED] and “opened fire from automatic weapons” on a Road Opening Party [ROP] of the 94 Battalion BSF which the troops returned with firing 981 rounds in “self-defense”. According to the CBI the militants’ engaged in “indiscriminate firing” on “innocent civilians” and troopers of the 94 Battalion of the BSF with the motive to “ tarnish the image” of the “security forces” in Sopore. The CBI contends that the fire that damaged “property worth crores” was caused by “explosion of gas cylinders” at a shop in Bhuggo Chowk where “gas cylinders where stored” in the ensuing “cross-firing”.
Contextualizing Command and Camp Structure in Sopore
The 94 Battalion of the BSF was shifted to Sopore in April 1992 to replace the 76 Battalion BSF in command in Sopore in April 1992. The 94 remained there until the day after the massacre-when on 7th January 1993, it was ordered move to Pulwama to relieve 19 Battalion BSF in an attempt of the administration to manage the mass protest and anger that spurned onto the public domain in the wake of the massacre. Reportedly, Sopore was burnt by the BSF for the time first on 13th of September 1992. The BSF shot dead three men, gang-raped a young woman and set ablaze 9 residential houses and 11 shops in the Nahrapora area of Sopore.
The 94 Battalion of the BSF was further divided into A, B, C, D, E and F companies, further headquartered at the Town Hall, Degree College, Indian Technology Institute the Jammu and Kashmir Bank on Tehsil Road, the State Bank of India at the Main Chowk and Arampora respectively [see map of the Sopore Massacre]. The Tactical Headquarters of the 94 Battalion itself were located at Arampora. The A, B, C, D, E and F companies were commanded by Assistant Commandant Ashok Yadav, Assistant Commandant Prakash Singh, Assistant Commandant Balwant Bhaskar Joshi, Inspector Ram Saran Singh, Deputy Commandant Jaideo Singh and Assistant Commandant Kartar Singh Saroha respectively. The number of troops in each Company was about 126 apart from 30 additional personnel at Battalion Head Quarter at Fruit Mandi who were retained for “performing the operational as well as camp duties”.
All companies were located within a distance of 1-3 kilometers from the Main Chowk, Sopore; consequently there would have been 786 personnel of the BSF in and around the area circumscribed by the six Companies. All Company Commanders were responsible for patrolling duties, the Road Opening Party’s and other operational and security duties. Each Company was further divided at the Platoon level and commanded by a Platoon Commander-Inspector BS Rawat, Inspector Gurcharan Singh, and Inspector Ajaib Singh, appear to have been the “Commando Platoon Commander[s]” of the B, C and E Companies. The Commanding Officer of the Battalion, S Thangappan, was the “overall controlling authority” and was responsible for the “smooth administration and operational exercises in the area where the battalion is located”. Assistant Commandant Prakash Singh was also the Quarter Master of the Battalion; in charge of “general administration” while Assistant Commandant MN Sajjan was “second in command”. The Deputy Inspector General of the BSF, Sector Baramulla, RS Jasrotia, “camped” at the “TAC HQ” 94 Battalion Fruit Mandi on the day of the massacre, was in a position of not only “apprising the situation” as per protocol but also issued “directions” for the Road Opening Party’s that day to the Commanding Officer. Finally, Inspector General of the BSF, Frontier Head Quarter, Srinagar, Ashok Patel also visited the Head Quarters of the 94 Battalion BSF at Fruit Mandi, Sopore, had “detailed discussions” with the personnel of the 94 Battalion BSF on 6 January 1993 from 6:00 pm to 7:30pm and then left for Srinagar.
Before the Massacre: An” Infected”/”Infested” Sopore
Around ten days prior to the massacre, on 25 December 1992, the F Company of the 94th Battalion of the BSF, located at the Old Bridge Sopore on Old Sopore Road was shifted and a new post comprising of personnel of the F Company was created at Arampura. One Company of 94 Battalion BSF located at Kushalmatto was shifted to Arampora to a “small-park surrounded by houses, shops” after December, as Sopore in general and Arampora in particular was found to be, “was infested by militants.” At the time of the massacre, the BSF were “in process of constructing bunkers” in the area for troops “on priority basis” after “it was seen [by the BSF] that after every attack on security forces the militants had been escaping… through the uncovered areas of Arampora leading towards Dangerpora and Nowpura via Sakkar [Samad] Cinema adjoining to Iqbal market, Sopore” as “no post of the BSF was established till that time.” Though militants fired on BSF troops regularly but there were “no casualties before 6 January.” Notably, there was a Bandh in the area from January 1 to January 5 to protest the creation of the BSF post at Arampora. Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal a resident of Arampora locality, whose father, Abdul Ahad Kanjwal, a senior worker of the National Conference who was killed in the massacre, Sopore says that 15-20 days prior to the massacre, two army officers came to his house and while lamenting over the losses faced by the army because of militants use of Kanjawal’s shops as a strategic asset from which to fire at the BSF personnel, showed him a map of Tehsil Road on which the location, a “danger zone” where the armed forces had previously come under attack from Tehsil Road to Arampora, “was marked in red”. In an affidavit filed before the TADA court, Srinagar, Kanjwal said, “He [the officer] warned me that if we wanted to save our lives, we should migrate from the area” leading Kanjwal to conclude that the massacre was premeditated.
Precipitation of the Massacre: A Theatre of Violence
Narrating the events that precipitated the massacre, Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal says, “I was the first person to open the shop that day. As I reached the road from the Muslim Peer alley, the scene was generally gloomy. I considered returning home but I was called by a BSF officer who I knew from earlier. He belonged to the 94th Battalion and was about 55 years old. He had a few stars on his shoulder and was possibly an inspector…on that day his personnel were piling up bricks for their bunker… I asked him where the blast that morning had occurred. He replied that I would be having information, as Kashmiri’s were the ones responsible for blasts. Then he said the blast took place at a different area. He then told me that if the blast had taken place at the Sopore Chowk, they would have taught the residents a lesson. Then there was a bullet shot. The BSF officer rushed towards Baba Yousuf alley [also referred to as ‘Chaman’ alley]. The soldiers who were collecting bricks took up their arms and took different positions to retaliate…in the meantime the officer rushed back from the Baba Yousuf alley and informed his soldiers that one of their men has been shot dead. Further, I heard the officer shouting to his men not to leave anyone alive in the vicinity. His exact words were ‘Hamara aadmi ko maardiya hai, kisi ko zinda mat chodo, jo jahan pe dikhega usko goli mardo’ / ‘They have killed our man, do not leave anyone alive, wherever you see someone, shoot them’”.
Kartar Singh Saroha, Assistant Commandant and Company Commander of the F Company of the BSF at Arampora, in his deposition before the CBI says that he had “detailed a 1.5 ton vehicle” and “ten constables” of the 60-70 personnel strong Company to facilitate “bringing bricks” for the construction of the bunkers at Arampora. At 9:30 am they [Saroha and other personnel of the Company] began loading the bricks in the vehicle, near the over-head water tank at Tehsil Road when at about 11 am militants opened fire which “two to three Jawans returned…in self defense”. The BSF personnel fired 11 rounds from LMG and 15 rounds from SLR at this time. According to Saroha, the troops simply “returned to the Arampura post” when the firing stopped after sometime.
According to the Commanding Officer of the 94th Battalion S. Tangappan, on the day of the massacre at about 9:40 am “militants blasted one IED and also opened fire from automatic weapons…on an army convoy of 5 Guards vehicles…going towards Kupwara from Iqbal market side. On receiving the information on incident from Companies, all Companies were alerted. As per directions of DIG, BSF, [R.S Jasrotia] all Companies were directed to send out Road Opening Party’s- …Situation remained normal till about 10:50 am when all of a sudden militants opened heavy volume of fire from all directions from houses and lanes, from Kushal Mutto (old bridge post) to Main Chowk, SBI, to J&K Bank (Arampora). The militants fired at the ROP as well as the posts indiscriminately. Troops also returned fire in self –defense”. According to him, Constable Arvind Pandey and Constable Jagatpal Singh, both of the Road Opening Party of the E Company on “LMG duty” were injured by a “grenade” thrown on them while they were on ROP duty at Muslim Peer.
According to Jagatpal Singh, Constable with the E Company of the BSF at the SBI post under Platoon Commander, Inspector Ajaib Singh along with 30 other BSF personnel he “got order from…Ajaib Singh at about 8:30 am for performing duty [ROP] along with 20-25 colleagues on Tehsil road as some army convoy was to pass through the Main Chowk, Tehsil Road Sopore on that day. The ROP party was to perform ROP duty on tehsil road from Main Chowk Sopore up to the water tank area, leading towards Police Station Sopore… [He] was on Light Machine Gun [LMG] duty along with Constable Arvind Pandey on the starting point of a lane at Tehsil road, leading towards Muslim Peer Mohalla.” Japgatpal Singh was hit by a bullet in his left eye which he suspects was “fired at from a truck with which was full of apples boxes due to a jam of its wheel in a ditch and from where 20-25 persons were unloading boxes”. His colleague Arvind Pandey, also of the E Company of 94 Battalion of the BSF was also shot and later died the same day. Of the massacre Jagatpal Singh says that “I was not a party to the killing of innocent civilians of Sopore nor I was a party to setting of fire of public property at Sopore”.
Mohd Abdullah Shalla, a resident of Shallpora, Sopore who lost four members of his family says, ”On 5 January 1993, in the evening, we had brought a truck loaded with 400 boxes of apples from Handwara…before the truck could enter the Shallapora lane the truck got stuck in a manhole. Then we had to unload the truck to get it out of the manhole but it was late night and we could not do it. Then next day morning…I along with my family members…our laborer…went to unload the truck. It was about 9:45 in the morning when we were unloading the truck. In the meantime, the firing by personnel of the 94th Battalion BSF began. I was outside the truck while my cousins were inside the truck. I ran for safety and took refuge in a nearby fabric shop. After entering shop, I heard shouts of BSF men saying “Jo jahan milayga goli maro, Aag lagao” [“Where ever you find them, shoot them, Set fire”]. Then after about 30 minutes, the fire started.” While hiding in a shop beneath the Grand Hotel, Shalla and others hiding there were taken out by BSF personnel where they were made to stand in a queue and told to run. As they ran, they were shot from behind but Shalla managed to escape into Shallapora lane. Shalla is an eyewitness to the killing of Zahoor Ahmad Khan of Shallapora, a teacher by profession, who, Shalla says was shot in the back while running.
According to Balwant Bhaskar Joshi, Assistant Commandant and Company Commander of the C Company of the 94 Battalion of BSF, upon hearing news of Arvind Pandey and Jagatpal Singh being injured, “they [Assistant Commandant and Commanding Officer of the B Company, Prakash Singh, Sub-Inspector and Commando Platoon Commander Sudama Rai and Balwant Bhaskar Joshi] got ready in two bunkers along with available troops i.e. 14-15 personnel of commando party which used to be kept reserve in Battalion Head Quarters [HQ] for the purpose of emergency/operational duties.” It was about 11:30am when they reached Tehsil road, leading towards Muslim Peer Mohalla. Joshi then says that he “came to Degree College at about 12:15 pm and remained there till about 3: 15 pm ” after which he “went back to the Battalion Head Quarters”.
Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal was witness to a BSF officer along with 8-10 other BSF personnel shoot Abdul Khaliq Malik, a resident of Arampora who received multiple bullets. Kanjwal was himself shot and left in the shop by the officer who told his men “Isko nndhar fenko, aur in salon ko gun powder faenk key zinda jalao” [“Throw him inside, and then throw gun powder and burn these people alive”]. Kanjwal was later recovered, unconscious, by his relatives from amongst dead bodies. While in his shop, Kanjwal saw by BSF personnel of the 94th Battalion enter into a government bus coming from the bus stand and moving in the direction of Bandipora stop near Khayam hotel [next to Samad Talkies], and shoot passengers indiscriminately. Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal says that he saw BSF personnel stopping a Maruti car, from which they took out the driver and told him to run. Then, the BSF personnel shot the driver in the back and burnt the Maruti.
Mehra Begum, a resident of Doabgah, traveling Sopore to Bandipora in the government bus, says in oral statements given to researchers of this report that, the bus, full of men, women and children reached Khayam Hotel, near Samad Talkies, at around 10:30 am in the morning when the driver stopped the bus because firing was going on ahead. Mehra saw a huge fire and 2-3 dead bodies lying in the middle of the road when armed and uniformed BSF personnel entered the bus and ordered everyone to put their hands up. Following this, the personnel started shooting persons in the bus indiscriminately. This included a couple from Haathlung both of whom were shot and one of whom [the wife] died on the spot. Mehra Begum was also shot in the arm, near the shoulder. She escaped when the BSF personnel, distracted by a loud noise at Samad Cinema left the bus after which a few locals took the injured to Baramulla Hospital along with two other passengers, one of who died en route to Baramulla.
Shafaqat Hussain Dar of Mahrajpora, Sopore who owned a shop at the Main Chowk and heard firing as he was about to open his store, entered Samad Talkies for refuge where he found that around 200-250 men and children gathered in its compound to escape the firing. From 10 am onwards, from the first and second storeys of the Cinema he saw fire in the Main Chowk and heard the BSF shouting “ Saloon ko pakdo…jo jahan mile mar do” [“Get hold of them, kill them where you find them”] as well the cries of the victims. The BSF personnel set fire to the building next to the Cinema, a Hotel Khayam, made mostly of wood. According to Dar, the BSF shot a white powder from their guns, fired a few shots at it upon which sparks emanated starting a fire. Upon seeing this, those held up in the cinema, including Shafaqat jumped out of the Cinema into the Shallpora graveyard, adjacent to the building. Shafaqat lost conciouness as soon as he jumped out and awoke to find himself in Soura Hospital, Srinagar, five days later.
Aftermath of the Massacre
Station House Officer [SHO], Sopore informed Additional Superintendent of Police, Jammu and Kashmir Police Narender Singh Bali, by telephone at his residence/office at the Town Hall that dead bodies were lying in the Main Chowk. The SHO in turn had received this information from personnel of the BSF who had requested him to remove the dead bodies. Bali deputed Assistant Sub Inspector Ghulam Hassan Teli and others to remove dead bodies. At 11:35 am Teli and others, came back and told him that they were, “stopped by the BSF personnel near the Central Bank of India from a distance of about 100 yards by raising the arms signal. They [BSF] then opened fire on the policemen.” At 12:15 N.S Bali reached the Main Chowk and saw two fire tenders standing outside the fire station about 10 yards from the Main Road. Upon asking the fire personnel the reason for their they said that they had been “prohibited by BSF with the threat that if they go ahead they will be fired upon.
According to Ahmad Hussain Andrabi, Station Officer of the Fire Station Sopore who was in charge of the 21 fire fighters, 4 mechanic driver and 3 drivers who fought the fire that day, the fire crew reached the Main Chowk Shopping Complex at 11:50 am, a distance of only a few yards from the Fire Station, Sopore and found that there was a big fire at Tehsil Road, Collge Road and Kupwara Road (Old Bridge Road). They also saw around 20-25 personnel of the BSF roaming on College Road, Tehsil Road, Kupwara Road with their weapons who were “firing continuously” in all directions “but did not see anyone” shooting at the BSF personnel from anywhere. The moment the fire personnel spread their pipes to extinguish the fire, the BSF personnel stopped them and kept them under “siege” for around one hour until 12:50 pm. The BSF personnel threatened the fire personnel and told them that “any fire fighter who tried to operate the fire fighting media shall be killed instantly.” According to the fighters “army men were so enraged that even ASP Bali could not prevail upon them”, which resulted in “delayed action” by around an hour. They started work only after “the army came and allowed them to begin work”. The fire was bought under control by seven fire crews of at least 60 fire personnel and 10 fire tenders from Sopore, Bandipora, Baramulla, Pattan, Magam, Keriri, Batamaloo, Gowakadal fire stations, working until 10pm on 06.01.1993 to bring the fire under control. The fire was completely put out on 08.01.1993-two days after BSF personnel of the 94 Battalion lit it.
Ghulam Hassan Sheikh and Mohammad Yatoo, both Assistant Surgeons, at Sub-District Hospital, Sopore heard firing at about 11 am coming form the Main Chowk area; which was followed by dead persons being carried into at hospital starting at 11: 15 am along with injured persons. At 2:30 or 3:00 pm, on the basis of information from locals they proceeded towards the Butpora and Shalpora areas respectively along with some paramedical staff and upon reaching there found dead bodies. He says the “cause of death is apparent as the deceased sustained bullet injuries”. Dr. Ghulam Hassan Shiekh prepared the Medico Legal Certificates [MLC’s] of 19 of the dead where as Dr. Mohammad Yatoo prepared the MLC’s of seven of the deceased. Both describe the cause of death as “apparent” since the deceased had sustained “bullet injuries”.
The Legal Process
Two First Information Reports [FIR] were filed in relation to the Sopore massacre. The informant Syed Mohammad Ilyas, lawyer and President, Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam, Sopore filed FIR no. 8/1993 under sections 302 [murder], 307 [attempt to mueder] 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. In contrast 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.
On 23 January 1993, following investigations by the Crime Branch and the Police, and as per orders of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, investigations in both FIR’s were taken up by the CBI on 20 January 1993. A one man Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Amarjeet Choudhary of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh was 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 looking into the Sopore massacre was submitted by the Commission, which incidentally never visited the site of the massacre.
Twenty years after the massacre, on 4 December 2013, a closure report with regard to both FIR’s was filed before the TADA Court following the clubbing together of both by the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate. The CBI took statements of 115 persons including 54 firemen, 3 doctors, 11 civilians and 5 personnel of the 94 Battalion BSF. The CBI 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”. Nothing 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.
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 i.e. mala fides on the part of the CBI. “ In response the CBI contended that the application had “no locus standi” in the case and sought its dismissal. 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.
Manufacturing “Closure”- A Critique of the CBI Report
The CBI closure report is one example of how investigative agencies of the State use the investigative process to provide cover for the perpetrators of the crime-even massacre-by obfuscating facts about massacre by pointing to a manufactured “non-cooperation of witness”, conspiracy theories ascribing the massacre to an attempt by “militants” to “tarnish the image of the security forces” while continuing to mount the presupposition of “self-defence” on behalf of the BSF. The burden of such malafides in the investigation of the CBI, leads its report to logical absurdness in several aspects. For example, at paragraph 16.19, the CBI states that: “…it is very difficult to reach at the conclusion about the fact as to who opened fire first during the incident…” But, just a few paras prior, at para 16.16, the following is stated: “Investigation revealed that the alleged indiscriminate firing by the militants on the troops of 94 Bn. BSF and innocent civilians at Sopore on 06.01.93 was done with the motive to tarnish the image of the security forces in the area, as the BSF troops acted only in self defence…” Finally, at para 16.15 it is stated that: “…the cause of firing as well as the motive behind the incident could not be established”. Therefore, while on one hand the CBI states that it is uncertain who fired first, but on the other, the BSF is said to have acted in self-defence. Further, the CBI in 16.15 is unable to find the motive, but in 16.16 it appears the motive is to tarnish the image of the security forces. Most importantly, at no point is any actual evidence provided on any of the conclusions.
Though eyewitness provides rich material of: a pre-existing conspiracy to commit the attack of 6 January 1993, the exact role of the BSF personnel and certain identifying information of BSF officers involved in the attack, the CBI has chosen to record testimonies of only 15 civilians effectively erasing from legal memory the crucial eyewitness testimony of key witnesses such as Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal, Mohammad Abdullah Shalla, Mehra Begum and Shafaqat Ahmad Dar. Even when irrefutable evidence is recorded by the CBI itself as in the case of Mohammad Ramzan Beigh who was working as a laborer in the fruit shop of Mohammad Ramzan War at the time of the massacre [see map of Sopore Massacre for the fruit shop located in the War Building] such crucial eyewitness testimony is conveniently brushed aside. Mohammad Ramzan Beigh says the BSF lined up the men (including him) from the shop, the JK Bank nearby and fired upon them at close range. Ramzan Beigh was hit by a burst of fire in the leg-that had to be amputated later. Despite its gravity, this testimony, for the CBI, does not implicate the BSF.
From the depositions of the BSF personnel Commanding Officer of the 94th Battalion BSF, S. Thangappan, Assistant Commandant and Commanding Officer of the B Company at Degree College, Prakash Singh, Assistant Commandant and Company Commander of the F Company at Arampora Kartar Singh Saroha and Assistant Commandant and Company Commander of the C Company of the BSF at Fruit Mandi it is clear that Sopore as a whole was viewed by them as an area “infected”/”infested” with militants who “frequently attacked…the BSF” with “sophisticated weapons”, used the “Arampora” –“Samad Cinema”- “Iqbal Market” areas as an “escape route” after “every attack” and that the geography of the area especially that the “densely populated” areas in and around the Main Chowk “having very narrow lanes and multistoried buildings” made it impossible “for the security forces to chase the militants” as they used to “mix with civilians“ or go into their “hideouts” in the area despite the presence of six Companies of the BSF at “sensitive points” like Samad Cinema, Arampora, Degree College, Muslim Peer and Iqbal Market.
It also emerges that after December 1992 a strategic decision was taken by “higher officers” of the BSF to create a bunker at Arampora at a “priority basis”. This corroborated by the testimony of Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal sheds light on the roots of the Sopore massacre and the massive fire that accompanied it. Yet the CBI blatantly refuses to connect the notions of a militant infested Sopore, the frustration of the BSF at not being able to obliterate the militancy due to geography of the Sopore area and the ethnic contiguity between militants and civilians which made it impossible to separate the two and the decisions taken by the officials of the BSF around December 1992 to the massacre itself. Though it is clear from testimony of several BSF personnel to the CBI that Assistant Commandant Prakash Singh, Assistant Commandant Kartar Singh Saroha, Assistant Commander Balwant Joshi, Platoon Commander Sudama Rai, Inspector Gurcharan Singh and Inspector Ajaib Singh were present at the site of the massacre-in and around the Main Chowk, Sopore between beginning around 10 am on 6th January 1993, the CBI find them blameless based, it seems, entirely on the denial of the perpetrators of their guilt.
Throughout testimony of the BSF personnel to the CBI, the “militant” appears as a specter conjured whenever convenient to prop up the theory of “cross-firing” effectively enabling the perpetrators to veil their crimes. It is useful to highlight the testimony of Assistant Commandants Joshi and Prakash Singh who jointly led “the 14-15 personnel of commando party…kept reserve in Battalion Head Quarters [HQ] for…emergency/operational duties“. According to Joshi “he did not see any militant at place of occurrence i.e. Main Chowk area, Tehsil road, Degree college, Kupwara road and Old Sopore road” and that there was “no firing on them en route” [from the Head Quarters at Fruit Mandi to the SBI post through Sopore-Baramulla road] despite Singh’s claim that “the heavy cross firing was going on” in which, purportedly, the “BSF was being attacked from all sides.” Similarly, Company Commander of the 94 Battalion BSF S Tangapan, in his statement says that he “had given instructions not to open fire unless militants were spotted and since the militants were firing from inside the houses from a distance, [hence] there was no return fire.” Yet, the BSF personnel of the 94 Battalion BSF “admitted to have fired 981 rounds”, from “110 weapons” in the incident. It is apparent, that the CBI’s use of the language of “cross-firing” provides acceptable cover for the BSF personnel who perpetrated the massacre.
The 44 Medico Legal Certificates [MLC’s] of the deceased indicate that most of those killed in the Sopore Massacre were fired at from the front and received multiple bullet wounds concentrated in a particular area. With the exception of three persons, all of those killed were shot in the head, chest and abdominal regions-21 of the deceased received firearm injuries in the chest, 11 received fire arm injuries in the abdomen and 6 were shot in the head including 2 who were shot in the forehead. 37 of the victims were shot from the front in the head, chest or abdomen at least once. Contrary to being indicative of cross firing, such a pattern of injury leading to death points to the BSF personnel perpetrating one-on-one extrajudicial executions. Dismissing the opinion the doctors at the scene who prepared the MLC’s and describe the “cause of death as “apparent” as the deceased had sustained “bullet injuries”, the CBI makes notes of several “lacunas” and “serious discrepancies” such as the fact the the dead bodies were examined “externally and not dissected” and that “no bullet heads with recovered” with little consideration for the circumstances under which the MLC’s were prepared, concluding that that MLC’s could be not used to “reach any logical conclusion regarding the cause of death”
The CBI inches no closer to underlining the cause of the fire concluding that concludes that fire was caused by “explosion of gas cylinders during exchange of fire between the BSF troopers and the militants” located at Bhuggo Chowk, Sopore nearly one kilometer away from the Main Chowk where the “exchange of fire” took place. The CBI entirely mimics the claim of Company Commander S Thangappan who says, “it was learnt that due to explosion of grenade and cross-firing one gas cylinder shop…caught fire.” A key eye witness, Tariq Ahmad Kanjwal, who was not even approached by the CBI in its investigation, says that while,“ there was a crockery shop…Bogu chowk at Muslim Peer alley end…selling lighting gas without gas liquid. This shop was definitely not the cause of the fire and destruction. The fire started 1.5 kms away from the crockery shop.” Moreover, many shops between Bogu Chowk and the Main Chowk remained uneffected by the fire.
The CBI also does not adequately answer the allegation of the fire service not being allowed to the scene of the fire immediately. The CBI seeks to contradict the evidence of the Sopore fire service – that they were delayed by the BSF – by using the testimony of the other fire service personnel. But, this argument is ludicrous and once again an apparent attempt to, by all means possible, discredit any allegation against the BSF. The CBI states that the evidence of the personnel of the Sopore fire service being delayed by the BSF ”is not corroborated by the other fire service personnel from other areas who arrived subsequently”. There can be no question of the other fire service personnel corroborating the Sopore fire service personnel version as the other personnel arrived later. It is only the Sopore fire service personnel who arrived immediately, and were in a position to stop the fire from spreading, and were delayed, who could provide evidence to that effect. The bias of the CBI is apparent from the fact that they seek “independent sources” to corroborate the Sopore fire services personnel evidence for no apparent reason.
Throughout its report, the CBI makes a case for viewing massacre through the lens of “cross-firing” yet it sees “punishment awarded” by the General Security Force Court [Court Martial] to “erring BSF officers/officials” in the Sopore massacre as reason for the case to be closed. In response to a RTI filed by researchers of the report, on 3 March 2014, the Chief Law Officer, Law Branch, BSF provided information related to court-martials carried out. In relation to the attack on Sopore on 6 January 1993, it is stated that a court-martial was carried out against seven personnel [no names are provided] for sections 304, 307 and 436 RPC. Therefore, it appears the court-martial was not carried out for offence under section 302 RPC – murder. Further, all seven personnel were found guilty only under Section 436 RPC [“Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy houses, etc”]. Therefore, the personnel were absolved of the other offences. Finally, the maximum punishment meted out, in addition to administrative strictures, appears to be: “3 months RI in force custody”. With the exception of S. Tangappan, it is also unclear how many of the seven personnel were punished with imprisonment in the forces custody. S Tangapan was placed under suspension with effect from 15 January 1993 and was attached with Frontier Head Quarters Border Security Force Srinagar. But, this is not in line with Section 436 RPC which prescribes the following punishment: “…shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine”.
The absurdity of the CBI position is brought to light by the fact that the CBI seeks to close this case as untraced [i.e. the perpetrators cannot be traced] while depending on the BSF court-martial in which perpetrators have obviously been identified. Meanwhile, and quite obviously, the BSF is not interested in continuing the case in the civilian court with regard to its FIR – 9/1993 and has no qualms with the CBI case closing the case. Both the CBI and the BSF stand implicated in covering up the crimes of 6 January 1993.
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