Shortly after (then) Kashmir police chief AK Bhan claimed that his personnel (along with Indian army) led by former counterinsurgent chief Farooq Khan shot dead ‘five militants responsible for Chattisinghpora massacre’ at Pathribal, a peaceful procession from Brari Aangan village came under fire for demanding the bodies of the slain civilians. 18 years later, the Brakpora massacre remains a classic example of how peaceful protests intermittently meet a violent end in Kashmir.
Well before a dusty truck ferrying eight bodies would pull over in a typical countrified village of Brari Aangan in southern Kashmir’s Islamabad on 4th April 2000, a platoon of Indian army had showed up in the village “to repeat Pathribal”.
Barely a fortnight ago, on March 20, 35 Kashmiri Sikhs were dragged from their residences in Chattisinghpora and gunned down. Then five days later, five civilians passed as militants behind the Sikh Massacre at Chattisinghpora were roasted alive at Pathribal inside a hut.
In backdrop of these twin slaughters, Indian army had come to Haji Mohalla area of Brari Aangan village at around 10 pm in the intervening night of 1st and 2nd April. That night, they picked up four civilians, including Javaid Khan, Maskoola Khan, Mir Qasim and Sadiq Khan, while two others escaped the detention.
“The two escaped villagers had alarmed us that army was planning to kill the four civilians like they did in Pathribal,” says Shabir Khan, a villager in Brari Aangan.
A week ago, in a very dramatic manner, the Farooq Abdullah’s Kashmir police chief AK Bhan had given the picture of the Pathribal fake encounter, thus: The government forces had surrounded a hut in Panchthalan, near Pathribal, where the terrorists were hiding. The fierce encounter that ensued ended when the shelter, with all five inside, caught fire and was destroyed.
After the two escaped villagers alerted Brari Aangan about the army’s plan, they protested and forced army to release the four civilians sheltered at nearby village, Haalan Gali. By then, the villagers had understood the larger plans. The confusion about Pathribal killing was cleared.
“After Chattisinghpora massacre gave a bad name to Indian army,” says Majeed Khan, then a class 9 student, whose life was about to be changed, “they first killed five civilians in Pathribal, then they picked up another four who escaped narrowly, before killing eight more at Brakpora.”
In the morning of 3rd April, 2000, following the announcements made through mosque loudspeakers, thousands of villagers of Brari Aangan and adjacent villages just 25 kilometers away from Islamabad district gathered for a protest march towards Deputy Commissioner’s office. The protesters were demanding the handover of bodies of five civilians killed at Pathribal, eight days before.
Children, teenagers, women, men and village elders took part in the procession. Among them were the two brothers: 40-year-old Noorani Khan and 37-year-old Noor-ul-Amin. They had their breakfast with their families before joining the procession.
“We were in the state of mourning as our villagers were burnt to death in Pathribal fake encounter,” continues Majeed, the youngest of the Khan siblings. “Even as their bodies were roasted, authorities wouldn’t hand them over to us.”
His mother, Khatoon Banu, chips in, “My sons had left home to bring back the dead ones at Pathribal, so that their last rites could be performed in a religious manner.”
At around 10am, Khatoon’s two sons along with the others started the march. After passing through Uttersoo, Shangus, Achabal, the procession was intercepted by armed forces in Brakpora village, three kilometers away from Islamabad town. “The protestors were shouting slogans, like ‘we want justice’, ‘handover the body of our dear ones’,” recalls Majeed. “But instead of heeding to their pleas, the forces without any warning opened fire on the protestors.”
The protestors ran for cover, but the firing left 7 dead on spot and around 35 injured. Both the dead as well as the injured were rushed to Islamabad district hospital.
“Picking up dead bodies of your own villagers, friends, and siblings is the tormenting tragedy of life,” Majeed says. “The dead were lying in a pool of blood. Among them was my brother Noorani. Seeing the blood scattered everywhere, I fainted inside the Islamabad hospital.”
When he regained his consciousness, he was told that his other brother Noor-Ul-Amin had succumbed to his injuries.
According to villagers almost everyone among the dead received bullets above the waist which clearly indicates the intention was shoot to kill.
The dead bodies were kept in Police Station in Islamabad for the whole night. “No one slept that night in Brari Aangan and nothing was confirmed that who was dead and who was injured,” says Majeed. “Next day we went to Islamabad to bring back dead bodies. The cops didn’t even provide us any vehicle. Then we arranged a truck. It was full of dust and stone pieces. We cleared the truck first and then embarked dead bodies into it.”
Singing elegies for their beloveds, the mothers and the sisters of the slain were waiting for their arrival. Shrieks and wistful cries were reverberating in Brari Anghan village. Inconsolable Khatoon was repeatedly beating her chest so did her next-door neighbor Hafiza Banu, whose 15-year-old son Nisar Ahmad Khan was the youngest among the slain.
In a span of eight days, it was the second tragedy for Hafiza. Among the five civilians killed in Pathribal fake encounter, one Jumma Khan was her brother.
“That day,” says Hafiza, holding the photograph of Nisar, “my son had stepped out to take part in a protest against his uncle’s and that of others’ killing. But they killed him, too.”
After disembarking from the truck, the dead were put in a single row wrapped in white cloth. The dead bodies of the two siblings, Noorani and Noor-Ul-Amin were placed side by side. All the slain were later buried in a single graveyard lying on the roadside along with those killed in Pathribal fake encounter.
The massacre changed lives.
Majeed Khan found no option then to drop out himself from school and sought some job. “I was unmarried but I took the responsibility of taking care of my slain brothers’ kids,” Majeed says. “After couple of months, Noor-Ul-Amin’s wife remarried. But the kids remained with me. I always tried my best not to make them feel the absence of their father.”
Noorani is survived by three daughters and two sons, while Noor-Ul-Amin is survived by three sons—one of them was born seven months after the massacre. They live with Khatoon, adjacent to Majeed’s house.
Few kilometers away from Khatoon’s house in Haji Mohalla, Atteqa Banu, 70, lost her 22-year-old son Akhtar Ali Khan, that day.
“Akhtar was in Jammu and had returned two days before the massacre,” says Atteqa, while making tea at hearth. “I always think had my son stayed for few more days in Jammu, he would has been alive today.” Her son was her ‘last hope’ after her husband’s demise. That hope, however, ended when his bullet-torn body was delivered to her.
Like Atteqa, another village woman Hafiza is also grappling with her lose in Brari Aangan. Her husband, a laborer by profession, was among the slain that day. After his death, Hafiza had to shoulder the responsibility of her house, his three unmarried sisters, their two daughters and a son. She married off her three sister-in-laws, built a new house and gave a good education to her children.
“Today, with the blessing of Almighty, I have everything,” she says, “except Fayaz.”
18 years later, these memories continue to remind the villagers that the state violence not only bled their peaceful justice campaign at Brakpora that day, but also changed their lives, forever.
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