September 27, 2010

Bijbehara Arson: "...Five persons were burnt alive"


On March 18, 1994, at about 12:45 p.m. an army jeep belonging to the G-2 Rashtriya Rifles unit struck a land mine two kilometers away from the village of Mahand in the district of Bijbehara. The jeep was damaged and two soldiers reportedly injured. According to a report by PUCL, immediately following the mine blast, the soldiers stopped a bus that was travelling on the road toward Mahand, ordered all the passengers to disembark and then beat them. The incident was also investigated by retired Justice Bahauddin Farooqi of the human rights organization the People’s Commission of Enquiry. Later that night the soldiers returned to Mahand, cordoned off the village, and ignited gunpowder in three houses, two of which were vacant. The vacant houses belonged to Abdul Gaffar Bhat and Ghulam Mohiuddin Dar. The third house belonged to Ghulam Qadir Wani and his brother-in-law Abdul Rahman Naiku. Five members of his Family, including three children, died in the explosion and fire. Wani’s wife Azi and niece Jamila died later in the SMHS hospital in Srinagar. Abdul Rahman Naiku was injured in the fire.

Ghulam Qadir Wani told PUCL that on the night of March 18 he was sleeping on the second floor of the house. His wife, Azi, son Abdul Salam, 25, sister-in-law Mrs. Rathi, 35, her two children, Javid Ahmed and Jamila, and two other grandchildren, Shaista and Imtiaza, were sleeping on the ground floor.

“At about 11:00 p.m. I heard voices in my compound. I got alarmed and got up and peeped through a window. I saw some army personnel numbering ten to twelve equipped with arms and knives. Frightened, I returned to bed. At 3:45 a.m. the army personnel, who had disappeared for some time, reappeared. They were shouting insults ("Haramzado Bahar Ajao" -- Come out you bastards). I came down but I could not open the door as it was bolted from outside. The moment I went back upstairs, a blast like a thunderbolt occurred. Instant flames surrounded our house, especially the ground floor in which our family members were sleeping. Somehow I managed to jump to the ground from the back of the house. I saw some military personnel running and whistling. It was about 4:30 a.m. I could see some neighbors coming for rescue. They brought some pumps and gradually controlled the fire”

Hari Krishan, 19, a member of the only Hindu family who remained in Mahand after the conflict broke out in 1990 told PUCL:

“Towards the end of the night I heard three successive blasts. I immediately tried to get out of my house to see what had actually happened, but my family did not allow me. After some time I was able to convince my parents that it was our moral duty to share the grief and sorrow of our neighbors who have always rendered their help and cooperation to us. I rushed to the spot and found that two houses have been blasted and one set on fire, roasting the family members inside. I also found the cow shed and a stable on fire wherein three horses were also roasted alive.”

Other witnesses told the People’s Commission of Enquiry that they saw army soldiers running away after the explosions, and calling to each other to get away quickly.

At around noon on March 18, Ghulam Mohiuddin Sheikh was traveling by bus from Mahand to Bijbehara, when the bus was stopped by the army at the village of Satkipora, where the mine blast had taken place. He told PUCL that the soldiers attacked the passengers, beating them with rifle butts and smashing the bus windows. The soldiers threatened the passengers coming from Mahand that they would be "taught a lesson." He continued:

“On that same night while I was in my house I heard three blasts and got up. I found the house of Ghulam Qadir Wani set on fire”

According to the People’s Commission of Enquiry, the government issued a press statement about the incident on March 19 which stated that an explosive substance was thrown by some unknown militants into the house of Abdul Rahmand Naiku at Mahand, Bijbehara, as a result of which the house-owner Mst. Azi wife of Ghulam Qadir Naiku [sic] and Mst. Hamida [sic] sustained injuries, who were hospitalised. The house also caught fire which engulfed another house in which five persons were burnt alive.

According to PUCL and the People’s Commission of Enquiry, no government or army officials visited the village to investigate the incident.

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