The Sopore Massacre
On January 6, 1993, at least 43 persons were killed, and a one-and-a-half kilometer-long block in central Sopore burned to the ground in the largest reprisal attack by the security forces in the history of the conflict.
The incident marked a watershed, forcing state and central government forces to acknowledge for the first time that the BSF forces responsible had retaliated against the town’s civilian population after two of their forces were injured and subsequently died in a militant attack.
The BSF unit involved was the 94th Battalion. According to witnesses, the incident occurred after a BSF soldier came under attack by members of the Hezb-ul Mujahidin militant group.
Two BSF soldiers were injured, and a light machine gun stolen by the militants. Immediately after the two soldiers were evacuated in a security vehicle at about 10:00 a.m., the BSF troops opened fire on civilians in the main chowk (square) and market area at the Sopore-Bandipore Road.
According to reports by local human rights organizations, a BSF officer then ordered his troops to, “Kill anyone and everyone you come across.” Another witness reported hearing the BSF troops shouting, “sab ko maro” (kill them all).
86 BSF troops also boarded a State Transport bus and opened fire indiscriminately, killing and wounding a number of passengers. Witnesses reported seeing BSF soldiers pour gasoline on to rags, set them alight and toss them on to houses and shops.
The BSF also prevented fire fighters from putting out the blaze. In addtion to the 43 persons who died as a result of gunshot injuries or burns, 14 persons were injured, and 8 persons remain missing. The fire destroyed or seriously damaged 37 residential buildings, 234 shops, 61 store houses and a cinema.
In his report about the incident, the Commandant of the 94th Battalion stated that the incident began when
“[U]nidentified militants suddenly opened fire from all directions on troops on ROP [routine operation patrol] duty … Our troops were constrained to return fire in self-defence. Meanwhile one grenade was thrown by the militants on LMG (light machine gun) group consisting of … Constable Arvind Pandey and … [Ct.] Jagatpal Singh. … The grenade exploded near these constables resulting in splinter injuries to them and they collapsed….[M]ilitants hiding in the nearby house and who had mingled with the crowds [took] away one light machine gun … Militants kept up intense fire in the vicinity and were trying to prevent evacuation of these previously injured constables. Our ROP had to resort to cover fire to retrieve the injured constables. In the meantime, some buildings caught fire simultaneously and explosives started exploding in them. … Due to congested built up area fire started spreading and could be controlled by late evening by which time in spite of best efforts a large number of shops and buildings were gutted by fire. A number of unidentified persons succumbed to bullet injuries in the cross live exchange of fire between the troops and militants.
The official version provided by Police Headquarters is at variance with the BSF report, in that it makes no mention of a grenade attack. Instead, the official report states that the security personnel were killed in an exchange of fire with the militants. Although both reports claim that the civilians who were killed were all killed in “cross-fire”, neither report claims that any other security forces or militant forces were killed. If, as the BSF report states, the “militants kept up intense fire in the vicinity” as the security forces were trying to evacuate their wounded men, it is highly unlikely that these forces would escape injury. The fact that only civilians were killed after the initial attack suggests that only the security forces were firing.
A BSF officer then ordered his troops to, “Kill anyone and everyone you come across.” Another witness reported hearing the BSF troops shouting, “sab ko maro” (kill them all)
On January 8, the government announced that a “thorough” inquiry into the massacre would be conducted, and that the BSF was conducting an internal inquiry.
On the basis of that inquiry, the BSF commandant and five constables were suspended. On January 9, the state government instituted a judicial inquiry, and on January 30, Justice Amar Singh Chaudhury was appointed to conduct the inquiry.
A BSF subinspector was placed on suspension, along with two assistant subinspectors, and the troops transferred to Pulwama, where, according to government sources, they threatened local residents that they would do the same to them. After that, the troops were reportedly transferred to Rajasthan. Asia Watch and PHR have requested further details from the government of India about the status of the inquiry, but received no response by the time this report went to print.
(Human Rights Watch Report: “The Human rights crisis in Kashmir” 1993)