The year 1997 is engraved in the Ganie family forever because during that year two events transpired that marked our lives forever—one is an account of endless horror and the other one has a positive ending.
It was March and the rain had been pouring from the skies for a couple of days. While the drains around my maternal grandfather's house were flowing with rain water, my older sister, older brother and my maternal uncle would make paper boats and float them above water for hours, a pleasant sight that we try to recall to lessen the grief and horrific burden of what was to follow. My family from my mother’s side and father’s side lived a few metres away from another, or just a call away—at the distance of a talla aalaw karus, as we say in Kashmiri. Mom had been married to her first cousin because she was the eldest of her siblings and the most adored daughter in the family, and my grandfather wanted to keep her close to his heart—at the proximity of jigras nazdeek, as we say in Kashmiri.
As the eldest of her siblings, my mom had been married a couple of years ago and she had already given birth to two children, one my elder brother (now fully grown up), and the other my sister (also a grown-up and a graduate now). I was the third child, yet to be born, that she was carrying in her womb in that year of ’97.
This was the good news for the whole family that year—that the Ganie family would delight in the birth of their youngest child to be cradled, raised, educated and played with. But the viciousness of the 90s had not yet provided them with a single clue about what was to befall that year of the late 90s, a year that yielded inconceivable trauma to the Ganie’s memory forever, six months before my birth.
It was evening, on the 16th of March, 1997. There was a sudden knock on the door at my grandfather's home. At the time, my grandfather, Mohd. Yousuf, was offering his nightly Isha prayers in his room. My grandmother was in the kitchen preparing dinner. My three maternal uncles (maamus) and maternal aunt (mausi) were watching TV in another room. It is believed that there was only one TV in the entire village back then and that was present at my maternal grandfather’s house. He was a man of his own principles and integrity. People feared him as he was well-built physically and equipped with great mental fortitude. He had great vision for society and was sought after for advice as a sort of Mukdam (village head) by the people.
The people of the entire area who knew him would lovingly call him Yousuf Lala. He had a nice family, a good share of land and was also a salaried government employee in the PHE Department. He was also a radio mechanic who loved to sing Kashmiri folksongs. He had friendships with countless people, some of whom still ask me "are you the grandson of Yousuf Lala?", followed by praises and blessings for him that flow without end upon receiving confirmation of our kinship. Each time this happens to me, I wish I had gotten to meet him. I would have asked him a lot of questions that frequently come up whenever I think about what it would have been like to live with him in those times—had he not been martyred by renegade counter-insurgent Ikhwanis and their BSF accomplices.
On that ominous 16th of March, when there was a knock at the door, the person on the other side spoke, Hanief beta darwaza kohloo, mai Majeed Uncle hun (Hanief, son, open the door, it's Majeed Uncle). Majeed was a former militant commander once, when the Kashmiri militancy was at its peak. He then changed his path and became a counter-insurgent commander for the Ikhwan, the dreaded pro Indian state militia. During his time in the Kashmiri militancy, he used to visit and stay at different houses in our locality. But his preferred destination was my grandfather's house, since my grandfather was very enthusiastic about the freedom of Kashmir, while also being part of the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Once Majeed became an Ikhwani commander, his disregard and irreverence became all-too-apparent because he was now a free man in the eyes of the Indian state and as such, he could visit my grandfather's house or any other house anytime he wanted—that of course came with setting aside all tehzeeb, tareek, tameez and formal cordiality that since times immemorial has existed in our Kashmiri social decorum. My grandfather vehemently opposed and disliked him after he became a commander for the Ikhwan. But Majeed didn't back away. He still used to arrive at my grandfather’s house, so my three maternal uncles and my maternal aunt grew accustomed to calling him Majeed Uncle.
When he arrived on that night of March, my elder Maamu—maternal uncle—Hanief thought that he usually comes to our house, so there is nothing suspicious to not open the door for him. He immediately jumped out of the TV room as soon as he could and opened the door. There was Majeed Uncle, who didn't greet him with a hug or a handshake, as is customary between well-acquainted Kashmiris. Instead, he wielded his gun and fired directly at him, massacring him on the spot. As the shots of gunfire reverberated through my maternal grandfather’s home, in a split second, my second maternal uncle jumped out and he too was shot without ever getting closer to his elder brother.
My elder maternal uncle, Hanief, was an 18-year-old medical student at that time. He was in the 12th class, about to finish high school, and with a life ahead of him and endless dreams of joining the university. His brother Naseer—my younger maternal uncle—two years younger to him at a mere age of 16, died from the gunfire in the same room as him, also a student, in the 10th class at that time. The elder of the two was a brilliant student according to Mom and the younger one was an average student, although he had other talents to compensate for his not-so-stellar scholastic record.
My mom says with pride that Hanief wanted to become a doctor as he would operate on dead frogs, bringing his biology lab lessons from school back to their family home. Hanief was also a cricket enthusiast and also had immense love for poetry. I used to read his Urdu poems from his personal dairies but somehow I lost them a few years ago—a sad happening that I still regret. My younger Maamu, Naseer, wasn't that intellectually and academically advanced in everything, given his young age of 16. He simply loved to pray five times a day and would help in family chores, apart from focussing on his studies the best he could.
As indiscriminate gunfire consumed my maternal grandfather’s household on the night of March 16th, my third maternal uncle (age 4 at the time) and maternal aunt (age 7 at the time), hid themselves in the Almirah (cupboard) in the TV room until the firing stopped. Later on in the night, they were rescued from there, while being traumatised and frozen with horror, unable to leave the questionable safety of a cupboard in a TV room next to which round upon round of gunfire had turned their home to smoke taken over by a terrifying smell of death.
Now, as Majeed and the other members from his Ikhwani posse had martyred two souls, they were looking for my grandfather, who they actually had come to kill because he had opposed Majeed’s antics during those days of his resurgence as a commander of the Ikhwan.
My grandfather was praying in his room and he had not finished his prayers when the first gunshots were fired. They entered his prayer room raging with bloodshot eyes and murder creeping off of their hands. But my well-built grandfather (45 years of age at the time) had switched off the lights during this siege on his house. And since he also had relative expertise in handling guns, he caught a hold of Majeed’s gun from behind as soon as the treacherous Ikhwani entered the darkened room.
Yet given that such cowards arrive in numbers and rarely alone, from the other room, another member of their Ikhwani posse, probably one of the two BSF troopers accompanying the group that night, fired upon him, and he too was martyred. Before that, Majeed and his group of murderers had gone into the local Masjid (mosque) looking for my grandfather that night, assuming that he would be there kneeling down before the Almighty in habitual prayer. Much to their surprise and the resulting insistence of their treachery, he had prayed at home. In those days, such violence from the state’s enforcers was far too common to the extent that, knowing what I know of my grandfather and what our elders say of him, in his mind he would have experienced a beautiful death if he had been martyred during prayer, considering that they had intended on murdering him in that manner at the local Masjid. That of course would have been a sad reality for the Ganie family but personally for him, a true blessing from God given the environment of counter-insurgent fear and terror that had taken over all of Kashmir. He must have thought that if he had to go from such a world, what better way than to go kneeling before God while facing the Holy Kaaba and with the back turned to tyrants and their hired murderers?
When my grandmother saw all this, running frantically throughout the house from her kitchen, her entire life shattering into an abyss right in front of her eyes. She had mustered the courage to leave her kitchen, but unfortunately, she too was shot the instant they caught sight of her. The bullets hit her abdomen and she managed to live for another five hours, bleeding out in agony and an incurably broken heart on the floor of the same family home that she had built so selflessly.
As people from our locality came rushing towards the spot of the killings, they saw what they thought could never happen in their neighbourhood given the close proximity with which everyone knew each other. As they tried to reason with the Ikhwanis as to why they had killed two parents and their two kids, Majeed and his terror-driven associates blamed militants for the killings and fired some shots in the direction of the nearby forests, indicating that the supposed and fictional militants had run away in that direction. But my grandmother had some life left in her, even while bleeding out on the floor and when the people from our village came to her succour, she was constantly saying Majeed killed all of our family.
In the aftermath of the family massacre, my bullet-injured grandmother was told to shut her mouth, because otherwise Majeed would kill everyone present there.
According to my mom, she could have been saved had Majeed called the nearby army camp for help in a timely manner. Majeed would say the ambulance is on the way, which actually didn’t arrive till five hours later. By that time, my grandmother had already succumbed to those fatal wounds. She was merely 40 years of age at the time.
When the men from the army camp visited the spot later on, after the death of my grandmother, they were angrily questioned as to why they had arrived so late and why they didn’t provide an ambulance on time. After arriving five hours late, they responded by saying that Majeed had informed them half an hour ago. They said had we known earlier, we would have been here and saved her. But why would Majeed have called them? He knew all-too-well that she was the only survivor and witness to the massacre he had orchestrated along with his associates.
My mom wasn't allowed to go to my grandfather's house because everyone feared she might die seeing such a sight. And given that I was in her belly, waiting to be born, she might suffer severe anguish and complications during her pregnancy because of the horrific events that marked our family and that were kept secret from her on that night of horror. Despite her many presentiments, somehow, my father and her paternal grandfather managed to keep her away from the site that night.
As soon as the day broke, she rushed towards the spot. Until that moment, she didn't know who had died in the village. Otherwise she also would have died from the unbearable shock and abysmal heartbreak. When she arrived at her maternal home, she couldn’t stand upright in the middle of the crowd of mourners and condolers and fainted in shock each time she watched the four martyred and lifeless souls in front of her.
I was born in September that year. At first, it was supposed to be good news but now it seemed a sigh of relief, as Mom was badly ill for over 6 months. She had developed a type of migraine that she still experiences on regular basis, even nowadays. And my father did feel happy that it was a boy again after a girl, but that didn't matter to my mom as she had lost four pillars of her heart to this endless brutal occupation.
Finally, after a lot of discussions in the family, my name was chosen and I was named Muhammad Hanief, after my 18-year-old elder maternal uncle, which sometimes makes me more recognizable to those who knew him.
Sometimes I feel as if I was born to fulfil one obligation on behalf of my mom, my martyred maternal grandparents and two maternal uncles, my surviving Maamu, who was 4 at the time, and my surviving Mausi, who was 7 at the time, as well as the rest of our family for the generations to come:
to write this account that you are reading twenty-three years later and to pass it on so that it may be remembered.
A Son’s Postscript to the Account of the Martyred
1. Majeed, the Ikhwani commander, was arrested two days after the crime. He died in an interrogation centre.
2. Majeed was working for the 118 Battalion of Border Security Force (BSF) at Dourasa Lolab Camp, Kupwara, Kashmir. As a commander of the Ikhwan, Majeed along with his group had unleashed a reign of terror in the area at the behest of the BSF. He used to tease and molest girls. So, my grandfather didn't accept his behaviour and used to openly oppose him. Majeed and my grandfather were friends before he took this sinister turn, but after my grandfather opposed his wrongdoings, Majeed’s anger grew incrementally, until he finally decided to kill him. Majeed also justified his treachery that night because my grandfather was associated with Jamaat--e-Islami as the core member from our village.
3. The case was reported, an FIR along with news reports were filed. Finally, after 13 years, the case was closed in 2009 when his three other counter-insurgent accomplices were convicted for the crime and were sentenced to life imprisonment.
4. Majeed died only after 15 days in interrogation (by the police), but the other three convicted are still serving their jail term.
5. Majeed’s full name was Abdul Majeed Ganai and he had surrendered as a militant only a year before, in 1996, joining the Ikhwan led by the notoriously dreaded counter-insurgent Kuka Parray.
6. The other three counter-insurgents involved in the murder were Gh. Mohiudeen Wani (an Ikhwani), and ASI Gulzar Singh and Gurmeet Singh of the BSF. After massacring my grandparents and two of their kids, the four perpetrators went on to kill Muhammad Ishaq Bhat, a local police officer, whose murder compelled the courts to convict them for their crime in a rare case of such convictions.
7. The Lalpora Lolab police station had registered an FIR no. 49 of 97 u/s 302,449 and 34 RPC and arrested the gunmen. All the particulars provided here are part of the FIR and have been covered by various newspapers in the public domain.
8. This story has been repeatedly narrated to me by my mom through the years. The two survivors of the massacre, my youngest maternal aunt (Mousi) and youngest maternal uncle (Maamu), are grown up now.