Muslim Massacre Trial Reopens: Can Justice Be Expected?
By Azim A. Khan Sherwani
26 September, 2006
criminal proceedings against the accused in the notorious Hashimpura
massacre case have recently reopened in New Delhi's Tis Hazaree Court.
It is a chilling reminder of the apathy of the state towards access
to justice for Muslims that it has taken nineteen long years for this
In May 1987 policemen belonging
to the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) shot dead 42
Muslim men, most of them youths, including some minors, from the Hashimpura
locality in Meerut. The massacre occurred in the wake of the communal
riots that broke out in Meerut in April that year after the Rajiv Gandhi
government decided to open the gates of the Babri Masjid to allow Hindus
to worship therein. The violence was brought under control in a few
days. In May, however, Meerut exploded again.
The violence this time was
unprecedented and a massive force, including the Army, was deployed
in the affected areas. Curfew was imposed and PAC personnel conducted
searches in several Muslim localities in the city. On May 22, 1987,
they booked hundreds of Muslim youth from Hashimpura, although there
was no rioting in that area of Meerut city. Nineteen PAC personnel,
under platoon commander Surinder Pal Singh, took about 50 Muslim youths,
most of them daily wage labourers and poor weavers, in a PAC truck from
Hashimpura to the Upper Ganga Canal in Murad Nagar, Ghaziabad, instead
of taking them to the police station. They shot them dead in cold blood
and threw their bodies into the canal. The PAC personnel then drove
ahead in their truck to the Hindon Canal in Makanpur and shot dead several
other Muslim youths they had taken with them. Two of the persons who
survived the Hindon Canal massacre and managed to escape lodged an FIR
at the Link Road Police Station. One of the four others who managed
to escape the massacre at the Upper Ganga Canal filed an FIR at the
Murad Nagar police station.
The horrific incident outraged
sections of the media and Muslim organisations. The People's Union for
Democratic Rights (PUDR) filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court
seeking more compensation to the families of the victims and an inquiry
into the incident. The Supreme Court directed the state government to
pay an additional compensation of a mere Rs.20,000 to the families of
each of the victims. In 1988, the state government ordered an inquiry
by the Crime Branch Central Investigation Department (CBCID).
During the CBCID inquiry,
Sub-Inspector Virendra Singh, who was in charge of the Link Road Police
Station, related that when he received information about what had happened
he set off towards the Hindon Canal. On his way, he saw a PAC truck
heading back from the place where the massacre had taken place. He then
tried chasing the truck and saw it enter 41st Vahini, a camp of the
PAC. The gatekeeper on night duty stopped it. Soon, Vibhuti Narain Rai,
Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, and Naseem Zaidi, District Magistrate,
Ghaziabad, reached 41st Vahini. They tried getting the truck traced
through senior PAC officers, but to no avail.
The CBCID identified 13 of
the 16 bodies recovered from the Hindon Canal and filed a charge sheet
against 19 PAC personnel under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure
Code (CrPC). Since most of the accused were public servants, the state
government's sanction under Section 197 was needed to prosecute them.
The policemen were accused of murder, attempt to murder and destruction
of evidence. The charge sheet was filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate
The CJM issued summons to
the accused, asking them to appear before the court. When the accused
did not appear before the court, bailable warrants were issued six times
between January 1997 and February 1998. Later, non-bailable warrants
were issued 17 times between April 1998 and April 2000. But the accused
evaded the summons and warrants.
Finally, as a consequence
of the pressure of the Supreme Court, 16 of the 19 accused surrendered
before the court in May 2000, 13 years after the incident. However,
although their bail applications were initially rejected by the CJM,
the accused managed to obtain bail from the court of the District Judge,
Ghaziabad. While granting bail, the Judge claimed that since the accused
were members of the PAC there was no chance of them absconding. Since
then, the case has been repeatedly delayed. In 2001, on the petition
filed by the victims before the Supreme Court, the case was transferred
from Ghaziabad to New Delhi as the conditions there, it was argued,
would be more conducive to the trial. The Supreme Court transferred
the case to the Tis Hazari Court and ordered for day- to-day hearing.
But the case could not be argued because the Uttar Pradesh government
deliberately delayed the appointment of the Special Public Prosecutor
(SPP). "We are at loss to understand why the state has been taking
this matter so casually and why we were not informed over all these
years the correct position," a three-Judge Bench, headed by the
then Chief Justice A.S. Anand, lamented while hearing a petition on
the Meerut riots.
The state government had
time and again failed to comply with the directions of the apex court.
The first of these directives was made in 1996 while hearing a petition
drawing the court's attention to the riots and the massacre in Hashimpura.
The petitioner had demanded to know what the government had done on
the basis of the recommendations of the Justice CD Parekh Commission,
which had been earlier constituted by the state government to look into
the violence in Meerut. In this context, the Supreme Court observed:
"We wish to emphasise
that any further lapse or failure to do the needful on the part of the
state would invite not only adverse comments from this court but may
require the personal presence of the Home Secretary in this court to
explain the lapses with a view also to consider the question of starting
proceedings for contempt of court by the delinquents."
The court put on record that
due to the non-cooperative attitude of the state government in the matter,
"the case still remained in the preliminary stages", although
14 years had passed since the filing of the petition.
In February 2004, the Supreme
Court issued a notice to the Director-General of Police (DGP) and the
Chief Secretary of UP to appear before it in person. Initially, the
Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) appointed by the UP government took
no interest in discharging his duties. The victims were clearly dissatisfied
with his functioning and so he was removed after they complained. In
November 2004, the government appointed Surinder Adlakha, a less than
mediocre lawyer, as SPP. Recently, on 15 th June 2006, when the case
started in the Tis Hazari Court, the Additional Session Judge, N.P Kaushik,
wrote very strong words against the ill- preparedness of the SPP.
One of the lawyers representing
the Hashimpura complainants, Vrinda Grover, feels that the victims have
the right to be consulted before the SPP is appointed. She accuses the
UP government of deliberately causing miscarriage of justice in the
case by trying to create hurdles in the proceedings and appointing a
lethargic and professionally incompetent SPP. The case has not been
properly investigated and more evidence could easily have been collected
from the site of the massacre.
As the apathetic attitude
of the government to the case of the hapless Muslims of Hashimpura seems
to suggest, it is not just the fanatic Hindutva lobby, including the
BJP that is indifferent, if not hostile, to the plight of Muslims repeatedly
denied justice. Today, UP is ruled by Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi
Party and a Congress-Left combine rules India. The present MLA and Minister
in UP government from Meerut, a Muslim elected on the Samajwadi Party
ticket, too, has shown little or no concern to take up the cause of
the victims of the Hashmipura massacre, so supine are many self-proclaimed
Muslim 'leaders', who are answerable to their parties rather than to
their own constituencies, concerned more about their own personal political
gains than about issues afflicting the community.
Access to justice in riot
and carnage cases is a distant dream for Muslims in India. The Hashimpura
massacre is a part of a long series of cases of denial of justice to
Muslims. Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was the Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad,
when the massacre took place, states very clearly in his pioneering
book 'Combating Communal Conflicts--Perception of Police Neutrality
During Hindu-Muslim Riots in India' that most of the police personnel
posted in Meerut saw the riots as a result of Muslim "mischief",
while ignoring or overlooking the role of Hindutva groups in fanning
them. They claimed that Meerut had become a "mini-Pakistan"
because of "Muslim intransigence" and that it was necessary
to teach the community a lesson. He argues for combating such deeply-rooted
communal prejudices among the police and insists on the need for adequate
Muslim representation in the police services. Yet, communal biases remain
firmly entrenched, as reflected in the State's reluctance to prosecute
guilty police personnel in the Hashimpura trial.
There is a desperate need
to scrutinise the role of public prosecutors who, in many trials related
to communal riots and anti-Muslim pogroms, take a leading role in facilitating
impunity to the accused. In the wake of the state-sponsored massacres
of Muslims in 2002, Gujarat witnessed the same kind of modus operandi
adopted by the state, resulting in mass acquittals of Hindus accused
in heinous cases. This calls for Muslim organisations to work along
with human rights groups as well as organisations representing other
marginalised communities to carry on the struggle for justice.
The writer is based in Delhi and writes on issues related to human rights
& peace building. He may be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org