The Gaw Kadal is named after the Gaw Kadal Bridge in Srinagar, where, 20th of January, 1990, Indian forces opened fire on a group of Kashmiri protesters in which more than 52 civilians were killed according to official records, but according to eye-witnesses, the actual death toll might have been as high as 280.
This horrific incident has been described by some authors as “the worst massacre in Kashmir history”.
The mass migration of Kashmir Pandiths had started only a few days before this terrible incident which shaped the future policy of the government in Kashmir, sharpening these divides and left behind bitter memories that have become hard to adjust even after 28 years.
The responsibility for the mass migration of Kashmir Pandits has always been a question in a society which lived together for years.
While the Pandith community mourns 19th of January as the darkest day of history, the Kashmiri Muslim community remembers the Gaw Kadal massacre of 20th of January as the day of mass murder which led to more massacre in the years to come.
Eye-witnesses of that day, while recalling the incident say that the murderous incident of Gaw Kadal is still haunting them. The blood spilled all around, dead bodies lay on the ground, the blood oozing from the wounded and the cries of the people for help still haunt those who survived the bloodshed.
Shafiqa of Gaw Kadal recalls, “it was like doomsday, the wounded were asking for help and those who were trying to save the wounded people were showered with bullets too. The whole scene was terrifying, firing forced the people to remain indoors and helplessly watched the horrific scenes. The wounded were begging for life but this was of no avail before the brutal army. They none; people who were trying to come out of their homes were also shot. Some of the wounded jumped into Jehlum to save their lives”, she added, “I tried to move out of my house to look for my husband (Shabir Ahmad Dar), who was part of the protest march. For three days the whole area was under strict curfew. I was trying hard to know about the whereabouts of my husband, after three days I came to know that he was dead”.
Twenty-eight years have gone since the rivers and skies turned blood red. 20th of January is that day we lost our brethren. People still walk
by the Gaw Kadal (bridge), but who remembers what happened that day. A memorial stone was built by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). It is hidden from the view by the Auto Rickshaw stand.
These diverse events, the exodus, and the massacres were taking place as one but this was not a matter of coincidence. Neither the roots of the Kashmir conflict nor that of the mutual suspicions between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, not even the threat perception suffered by the minorities after the youth from the majority community picked up guns and raised the slogans of ‘Azadi’, lie at the heart of the events that happened in that short span of a week.
Jalaluddin (aged 83) of Srinagar believes there were external elements which led to the division between the two communities. ‘After the mass rigging of the elections, the separatist movement became strong. Instead of joining this movement, some of the Pandiths started working for government agencies. Muslims became very skeptical about the intentions of the Pandits. They were getting higher positions in the government sector at the time,’ he told, ‘Pandits became a prey for people who wanted to demonize the Kashmir movement and divide the community. They were also the targets of the non-state actors’, he said.
To troublesome the rebellion, the government needed people who would support them to counter the insurgency. They found none but the “Pandiths” who were an imperceptible community which was psychologically marginalized and felt threatened by the unfolding events.
There have been different narratives into the killings of Pandits.Whereas Kashmiri people have been accusing the then governor, Jagmohan, for the killings and migration of Pandiths, the organizations of Pandits (Panun Kashmir), blames the Kashmiri for killing 2000 Pandiths.However, Kashmir Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS) which comprises of people who never fled Kashmir consider those figures an exaggerated figures.
Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which was operating in the early 1990s has always rejected its hand in the communal killings in Kashmir and migration of the Pandits as a result. JKLF blames the Government of India for formulating the conspiracy to portray the freedom movement as communal and this was responsible for the mass migration of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley.
The mass migration of Pandiths and the Gaw Kadal massacre happened just a day after the Government of India appointed Jagmohan as the Governor for a second time with the aim to curb the separatist movements in Kashmir. Due to the ongoing unrest, violence erupted in the Valley in November 1989. The anger among people had been simmering in the state just since the 1987 elections which people believed were heavily rigged by the central government and the then ruling National Conference to ensure the defeat of a coalition of political parties which were pro-independence and pro-autonomy.
In the intervening night of 19-20 January, amid strict curfew, State Road Transport Corporation buses started ferrying thousands of Pandits from Kashmir to Jammu.
Gaw Kadal massacre was followed by the massacres in Alamgari Bazaar on 22th of January, and in Handwara on January 25. This was the situation under which the Pandits fled the Kashmir Valley.