As you enter Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, you will come across a blink-and-miss lane near a mosque and a chicken shop. Enter the lane, which has seen many journalists and cameras over the last 30 years, and you’ll meet the most honest and helpful people you have ever met. Most of these people are daily wage earners whose daily routines consist of getting up early and going to work. However, amid this daily routine, what they can never forget is the evening of May 22, 1987. They can never forget the wounds inflicted on them, even if they want to. Hashimpura, at that time, only had old people or kids. No one from the younger generation survived the nightmare that the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) had allegedly unleashed on them.
Post the Babri Masjid demolition, there were riots all across Uttar Pradesh and Meerut was no exception. The district had seen a series of communal riots starting from as early as 1961, followed by more in 1968, 1973 and 1982. But the air in the area was charged with tension when the Provincial Armed Constabulary or Pradeshik Armed Constabulary (PAC) was called in by the state government and the then chief minister Vir Bahadur Singh.
It is alleged that 19 PAC personnel, under the leadership of platoon commander Surinder Pal Singh, picked up several Muslim men on the night of May 22 – the last Friday of Ramadan – on the pretext of checking them. All these men were taken into custody. While they let go of the children and the old, around 45 men were taken to the Hindon canal in Murad Nagar, near Ghaziabad, where they were allegedly shot dead and thrown into it.
In May 2000, 16 of the 19 accused people surrendered as three were already dead by then. However, they were later released on bail. In 2002, the case was transferred from Ghaziabad to a sessions court in Tis Hazari, Delhi. After a long trial at the Tis Hazari Court which lasted for 13 years, the court acquitted all of the 16 accused due to lack of evidence. The handling of the case has been severely criticised by Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was Ghaziabad’s superintendent of police at that time. He accused the CID of bias in his book “Hashimpura 22 May”, for not allowing a fair probe. He also called the Hashimpura incident “the country’s biggest custodial killing since Independence”, and at the same time, called it a “phenomenon that goes deep into the mindset of the Indian society – a mindset that leads to communal violence.”
However, the innocent people of Hashimpura still believe that justice will prevail. “As an Indian citizen, I have a firm faith in our judiciary,” says Nayeem who survived the horrible night by pretending to be dead. Blood from his neighbour Qamruddin’s body, who was shot in the stomach, saved Nayeem.
It hurts to see the accused roaming freely. But I believe in Allah and our judiciary. I believe that the truth will come out one day,” says Zarina, who lost her husband and son in the massacre.
Will these people get justice? Will justice prevail? Will these people ever see the accused behind bars? Thirty years on, these questions continue haunting India’s ‘secularism’ and judiciary – and will do so till the Hashimpura victims get justice
All images have been provided by the author.