By Sushmita Sihwag:
“Looking for the living among blood-bathed bodies strewn around a canal and between ravines near Makanpur village on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border in the dead of night – the intervening night between May 22 and May 23 – with a dim struggling torchlight and ensuring one doesn’t trample upon bodies, all still stream through the mind like a horror film…”
This chilling narrative of the 1987 Hashimpura massacre is an excerpt from a blog post by Vibhuti Narain Rai, the then Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, UP, who had witnessed the gut-wrenching scenario in which more than 40 innocent Muslims were shot to death by the PAC personnel (Provincial Armed Constabulary).
What happened in Hashimapur 28 years ago?
Violence erupted in Meerut in May 1987, after a brief period of stable atmosphere following the communal riots in April. A curfew was imposed and the PAC personnel conducted searches in various Muslim localities of the city.
On the night of May 22, 1987, coincidentally the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, 19 PAC personnel charged into the homes of the people of Hashimpura, a predominantly Muslim locality of Meerut, and rounded up around 50 young Muslim men. They were forced into a PAC truck and taken to a canal, where some of them were shot and their bodies were then dumped into the canal. The remaining men were taken to the Hindon river near Makanpur village and shot dead. That day 42 young men were murdered, however, a few of them survived by pretending to be dead and lodged an FIR against the PAC personnel.
The Court Case And The Judgement
• The charge sheet in the case was filed 9 years after the incident, that is, in 1996. It was filed against 19 PAC personnel, who were accused of conducting the massacre.
• On a petition from the families of victims and survivors, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Delhi in 2002. Four years later, the Delhi court framed charges of murder, attempt to murder, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence under the IPC against the accused.
• On 21st March 2015, the Delhi sessions court acquitted the 16 surviving accused on the grounds of lack of evidence against them.
Why We Should Not Dismiss This As Just Another Communal Riot
After reading the above stated facts, one must wonder why so many young men were murdered in cold blood, or in other words, what was their fault? Were they involved in the riots or did they commit a crime so grave that they were shot to death without a trial?
The answer is – No. They were innocent.
The primary reason because of which they were murdered was that they had put their faith in Allah, and not in Ram. That’s the only crime they had committed. They were not the victims of rifle bullets, but of dirty communal politics, and a lethargic judicial system.
The main question that arises is what could possibly be the motive of those PAC personnel in killing a staggering number of innocent civilians in such a brutal fashion? It seems unthinkable that they could have dared to go on a barbarous killing spree without the fear of being prosecuted, but because this was the case, in my opinion, the only plausible explanation is that they must have received orders from the political or administrative forces and would have been promised impunity.
The delay in filing the charge sheet and then in conducting the trial only added to the misery and distress of the victims and their families, who had pinned all their hopes on justice.
Another aspect of the case which reflects the complete failure of all organs of the state in providing justice is that the 19 accused PAC personnel were never suspended, instead some of them were even promoted. In my opinion, they could have easily tampered with evidence and controlled the investigation.
This seems highly probable, as the court ruled that no blood or bullet marks were found on the PAC truck, which was allegedly used for carrying the men to the canal. This was clearly a violation of the right to fair investigation and trial, because in the end, the accused were let off on the grounds of lack of evidence.
Besides not providing timely justice to the victims and their families, the state also failed to grant compensation to them in all these 28 years. Although it could in no way compensate for the invaluable loss of their loved ones, the government could at least alleviate their financial troubles given that the murdered men were young and in some cases, the sole breadwinners of their families.
Why is it that every time it’s the innocent civilians who face the brunt of communal flare ups and are used as props by corrupt politicians to further their own agenda? This case is one of its kind, because here the guardians and protectors of the public itself turned into its biggest enemies and went out to openly inflict harm on them.
On her Facebook page, lawyer Rebecca Mammen John wrote, “Who lost yesterday? India lost its right to be called a law enforcing Constitutional Republic. Not the victims, who had bravely fought for justice for 28 years. During that period, they never lost hope, they were so dignified in their struggle and they always believed that justice would be done. It was not. And we must hang our heads in shame!”
I couldn’t agree more with her. And along with the victims, I too lost faith in the ability of the Indian state to provide its citizens with a life of dignity and respect.