16 years on, Sailan Poonch massacre survivors recount horror, delay in justice

Srinagar, August 04 : On the 16th anniversary of massacre of Sailan in Poonch district, the relatives of the victims decried inordinate delay in justice and vowed to continue their struggle for bringing the culprits to book.
The relatives, mostly survivors of the brutal massacre, in which 19 people including 11 children of three families were killed by four Special Police Officers (SPOs) and personnel of 9 Paratroopers of Indian Army on intervening night of August 3-4, recounted the incident with tearful eyes during a press conference in Srinagar.
During the event organized by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a 54-page report ‘The Anatomy of a Massacre: The Mass killings of Sailan, August 3-4, 1998 was released by the survivors.
The survivors said day before the massacre, unidentified gunmen had killed an SPO Zakir Ahmad of Sailan on Mughal road. They said the personnel from 9 Paratroopers accused their relative, Imtiaz Ahmad, for the killing. “Zakir worked as an informer for the Army. The  Indian Army personnel had threatened Imtiaz’s family to face consequences for Zakir’s killing. To save their lives, Imtiaz’s family took refuge in two houses including mine. During night, SPOs, who were close associates of Zakir asked for whereabouts of Imtiaz ,” said Abdul Ahad, a witness.
Ahad said the SPOs thrashed Imtiaz’s brother Maqsood forcing him to reveal whereabouts of his family members. “The SPOs were joined by army personnel. They barged into my house and made 20 inmates including my family members to sit on floor like school children,” said Shabbir Ahmad another witness.
“An officer wearing a cap and jacket severely tortured Imtiaz’s father. Tiger fired upon his legs and his family rushed to the spot to save him. My father caught hold of the army officer’s collar who directed an SPO to open fire on him. In the melee I escaped from a small door trap toward maize fields,” “After 10 minutes I heard cries of my family members. My worst fears turned true after I heard single gunshots after intervals. The forces abruptly left my house; however, I remained in maize field for whole night,” he said.
Mustering courage Shabbir said he went inside the house in morning. “I was shocked to see piles of bodies hacked and mutilated…..severed arms, legs and hands were lying in pool of blood. I shivered on seeing an axe embedded in my younger sister’s body,” said Shabbir as tears welled in his eyes.
Shabbir was yet to see the worst. “I fainted on seeing my pregnant sister Zarina’s abdomen hacked with unborn baby’s arm standing out,” he said in a choked voice.
Shabbir’s brother, Muhammad Latief, accused the police and Army of trying to destroy the evidence including bodies after the incident. “However locals foiled their evil plans and buried the bodies,” he said.
“A week after the massacre, the then Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, visited the area to know facts about the incident. I categorically told him (Farooq) ‘your dreaded men executed the massacre of innocents.’ Ironically, despite evidence and passing of 16 years we are still awaiting justice,” he added.
On the occasion, human rights activist, Nandani Ghosh, who has compiled the report for JKCCS dwelt on various aspects of the case.
“By tracing the oral and documented history of the Sailan massacre, the report shows how the crime was deeply embedded in the militarized social fabric of Sailan. It argues that mass crimes, including mass rapes, collective torture, arson and mass killings are a deliberate enactment of the impunity and lawlessness of the Indian state, which kill, maim and terrorise not only the direct victims, witnesses and survivors but the entire population,” said JKCCS coordinator Khuram Parvez.