19th September 1997
Arin, a little village in Kashmir's Baramulla district, was in deep mourning on Friday.
It has been only a few hours since the villagers buried 11 of their own people. The innocents were killed -- and 13 others injured -- by the very people assigned to protect them, the Border Security Force.
The worst-ever tragedy since the Farooq Abdullah government took office 11 months ago occurred on Thursday evening, when two mortar shells landed near the sole rice husking machine in the village.
A large number of villagers had just collected enough rice supplies for the forthcoming harvest festival, Nov. Others were waiting for their turn at the machine, when the fiery shells exploded in their midst, ending festive spirit and triggering tragic scenes.
The security personnel, it was later learnt, were targetting the nearby hills where, they believed, militants were hiding.
"The BSF started firing at around 1730 hours. We were busy at the machine when we heard a deafening sound. We rushed out and saw a shell had hit Abdul Rashid Mir's house," recalled villager Bashir Ahmad.
"We asked Mir's family to come out into the compound. And we were all waiting there... praying, the women crying when another shell landed in the compound," Ahmad said. "After that I don't know what happened."
Mir and four of his family members perished in the explosion. Tears
rolling down his cheeks, another villager Ghulam Nabi said, "The explosion
shook the place. There were bodies all over, the injured
crying for help..."
Nabi's niece Hafeeza was among them, her leg shattered. "She was crying, 'Please save me, take me to the hospital,' " Nabi continued. "Somebody lifted her on to my back, and I ran towards Bandipore. When I reached there, the doctors asked me to shift her to Srinagar. We had to wait another two hours for the ambulance."
Hafeeza was lucky, she will live. But Abdul Rashid Mir, Mehnaz Bano, Jana Begum, Posha, Neelogar, Reafat Parvaiz, Ghulam Rasool Wani, Saba Bano, Nazir Ahmad, Sameena Mir and Sonia weren't.
Police officials said that the shells were fired from the BSF camp at the nearby Babapore village. However, the BSF strongly denied it. "The BSF is not involved in the incident," said its inspector general in Srinagar. "We are collecting the details."
The tragedy shocked the Centre and the state governments. While Union Home Minister Inderjit Gupta is flying to Srinagar on Saturday, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 100,000 to the next of kin of the deceased, and ordered a high-level enquiry into the incident. The deputy commissioner, Baramullah, will hold the enquiry.
Arin's sole husking machine, meanwhile, has fallen silent. It will be quiet for some time before it resumes activity.