“Unnerved, I stood still watching people groaning out of pain, blood oozing from the bodies of innocent civilians and flowing through the streets”
Chill runs down the spine of 43-year-old Shakeel Ahmed when he recounts seeing dozens of men hit by bullets fired by paramilitary CRPF men fall dead in front of him at Hawal on 21st May 1990.
Recounting the horror of being part of the funeral procession of the 14th Mirwaiz of Kashmir, Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq, who was assassinated on this day, Shakeel says, “I was then 15-years-old and on receiving the news of Farooq sahab’s assassination, like any other of his followers, I ran to his place with my brother and his friends.”
Going down the memory lane, he says the troops and paramilitary forces were deployed throughout the city.
“When we reached Islamia College at Hawal from Nigeen, the CRPF men opened indiscriminate fire and started shooting us recklessly,” he says. “Unnerved, I stood still watching people groaning out of pain, blood oozing from the bodies of innocent civilians and flowing through the streets.”
Shakeel, who had a narrow escape, says he crouched on hearing more gunshots.
“I rescued some people who were hit by bullets,” he says. “My shirt had blood stains all over it.”
Shakeel did not participate in the last rites of the assassinated Mirwaiz but instead started helping the injured, and putting the dead on the roadside and in vans.
“I saw a man serving water to the procession and helping the injured also getting hit by a bullet and dropping dead,” he says.
As Shakeel continued with the rescue work, at least 65 persons were killed in the indiscriminate firing by the paramilitary CRPF men.
It was the unflinching courage of the people that they marched forward despite causalities and performed the last rites of the assassinated Mirwaiz.
Since then, May 21 is being marked as the martyrdom anniversary of the Shaheed-e-Milat, Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq and to commemorate the martyrdom of 65 civilians and Shaheed-e-Hurriyat Abdul Gani Lone, who was 12 years later assassinated by unidentified gunmen near the grave of Mirwaiz Farooq at Martyrs Graveyard in Eidgah.
Bashir Ahmed Shah, an eyewitness of the massacre, says: “People were resolute and cascaded forward. We were escorted by an immense crowd gathered around the body of Mirwaiz Farooq sahab during his funeral. Around 4 lakh people were estimated to be there. If we had to bend, we would have been trampled upon by the surpassing crowd.”
Remembering the scenes when people were wailing and crying for help in that frenzy, he says, “It’s one such horror that’s still etched in my mind and that didn’t go away.”
Bashir says he ducked bullets to save his life and later arranged ambulances for the injured and those struggling for breath.
“We didn’t let the procession stop at any point until we reached the destination,” he recalls.
Another survivor of the Hawal massacre, Haji Ghulam Baig says his heart still feels the pain of that massacre.
“After the massacre, numerous wrist watches and shoes were scattered all over the street and what was recovered was given to a Masjid’s trust to distribute the items among the poor,” Baig says.
Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq, the founder of Jammu Kashmir Awami Action Committee (AAC), was a celebrated religious leader of Kashmir and one seen as a parallel to the Abdullah clan.
A forward-looking leader, Mirwaiz Farooq attempted involving New Delhi and Islamabad in a dialogue over Kashmir.
Moulana Muhammad Sayeed-ur-Rehman Shams, an office bearer at AAC, says, “Late Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq had true leadership qualities and if he had been alive today, Kashmir situation wouldn’t have been this worse.”
An eyewitness to the AAC founder’s killing, Shams says: “Farooq sahab became a victim of a deep conspiracy when a few people, who had weapons hidden with them, entered his office to speak to him. I was the only person in the office and saw them going inside. I didn’t suspect anything as everyone used to be welcome at his office. It was only when I saw these people running back from his office that I knew something was wrong and rushed inside the room. There, I saw Farooq sahab drenched in a pool of blood.”
After hearing about the assassination of their leader, around 4 lakh people took to streets to participate in his funeral procession.
However, the CRPF men posted at Hawal started indiscriminate fire resulting in the killings of at least 65 civilians.
The Hawal massacre was third of its kind in 1990 following the Gaw Kadal massacre of January 21, 1990 and Handwara massacre of January 25, 1990.