On 11 June 1991, nearly a dozen CRPF men came out charging from their camp situated near the Government Medical College Karan Nagar here. Blood in their eyes, they began firing indiscriminately at shopkeepers, passersby not even sparing women and children. By the time their guns ceased to boom in the adjacent Chota Bazar locality, dozens of innocent civilians had been killed in what remains one of the bloodiest massacres in Kashmir’s 20-year-old turmoil — the Chotta Bazar massacre.
Though official figures put the toll at 18, locals say at least 28 people were killed and scores injured in the indiscriminate CRPF firing on the day.
“I remember it was around 6 pm. Everything was normal in the area when suddenly the CRPF troops came out of the camp. Yelling abuse, they began firing indiscriminately at two watchmen posted at the gate of the Government Medical College. Both died on the spot,” said an eyewitness to the incident.
He said immediately troopers barged straight into a shop opposite the GMC and fired indiscriminately at people inside.
This time, the victim was a doctor of the SMHS hospital’s Ophthalmology department, who was shot dead while he frantically showed his identity card to the obstinate troopers.
That was just the beginning of the CRPF frenzy. They stopped passing by auto rickshaws and matadors near the adjacent National School.
Three drivers, a conductor and several passengers including a 75-year-old woman from Chotta Bazar and a 14-year-old boy from Nawab Bazar were dragged out and shot dead. Their next target was a nearby mechanic workshop.
Eyewitnesses recounted how the CRPF men entered the shop, shot dead the chief mechanic Rashid Mistri and one of his assistants while yelling Sab ko mardo (Kill Everyone).
Locals say around 2:30 pm that day, militants had attacked a CRPF bunker at Gada Kocha Zainakadal, barely half a kilometer away, injuring a few CRPF personnel.
Locals say that could be the only reason for the CRPF fury. “They behaved like beasts. I was in my shop when a CRPF officer entered in and fired at me. However, the gun got jammed and the officer ordered his men to sprinkle gun powder on me,” said a former shopkeeper of Chotta Bazar area who remained bed-ridden for over two years after the incident.
A senior police officer who served during that period told a local news gathering agency PBI that all those killed in the CRPF firing were civilians.
“The authorities ordered a probe and Justice Mufti Jalaluddin headed an inquiry commission into the incident. Late Advocate Jaleel Andrabi pursued the case vigorously for some years. However, after his killing by Indian army and the transfer of Mufti Jalalludin, the case went into oblivion,” the police offer said.
Even to this day a criminal case stands registered against the CRPF under section 302 at Karan Nagar police station.An official at the police station said that the file had to be looked up in “some old records”.