Hashimpura Massacre: Long Years Of Injustice
By M Shamsur Rabb Khan
24 May, 2010
On 24 May 1987, exactly 22 years ago on this day, 50 Muslims were picked up from Hashimpura locality of Meerut, out of which 42 were brutally shot dead and then thrown into the Upper Ganges Canal and the Hindon Canal by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh. And in all these long years, the successive Uttar Pradesh governments have shown the least interest in pursuing the prosecution of the 19 accused PAC personnel for the crime to what the then veteran journalist Nikhil Chakravartty called "Nazi Pogrom against the Jews, to strike terror and nothing but terror in a whole minority Community". Although the cold-blooded massacre has long been erased from public memory, the relatives and survivors, lawyers, activists and journalists are the few who have kept the hope for justice alive. While the perpetrators walk free with promotions, survivors and family members of victims recount the night of horror that is still fresh in their mind. How it all happened and why the justice is not yet done.
When, as per the order of the late Rajiv Gandhi government, locks on the disputed Babri Masjid was opened in 1987, communal clashes broke out in Meerut due to which curfew was clamped and PAC personnel conducted house-to-house search in several Muslim localities. On May 24, 1987, 19 PAC jawans, under platoon commander Surinder Pal Singh, arrested 50 Muslims, mostly daily wage earners, labourers and poor weavers from Hashimpura locality of Meerut and took them, not to the police station, to the Upper Ganga canal in Murad Nagar, Ghaziabad. Notorious for their communal stance, PAC shot dead, one by one, in cold blood and then disposed their bodies off in the Upper Ganges Canal. Then the PAC drove the truck to the Hindon Canal and threw the remaining dead bodies into it. In the shoot out, one PAC constable was injured, while four Muslims escaped the bullets. Next day, Sirajuddin, one of the escapees, filed a first information report (FIR) at the Murad Nagar Police Station. FIRs were also filed by the other survivors at two different police stations in UP, while two men who were shot and left for dead, miraculously survived, who are the eyewitnesses now
Since it was perhaps the biggest case of barbaric cold-blooded murder by the state machinery in independent India, it outraged sections of the media, civil society groups and minority rights organizations. To assuage the rising sentiments, the UP government announced a meager compensation of Rs.20,000 for the victims. In response, the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, asking for a judicial inquiry and more compensation. The apex court directed the UP government to pay an additional compensation of Rs.20,000 to each of the families of the victims. Still that was not enough. Due to the findings of an independent inquiry conducted by PUDR and pressures from civil society groups, which demanded strict action against the PAC personnel, the then Congress Chief Minister VB Singh ordered an inquiry by the Crime Branch Central Investigation Department (CBCID) in 1988. After deliberate delay, the CBCID filed a charge sheet against 19 PAC personnel under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in 1994. The Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Ghaziabad issued summons to the 19 accused PAC personnel, but they did not appear in the court. In fact, the accused were not arrested for the next 13 years in spite of the fact that the CJM Ghaziabad issued bailable warrants six times between 31 January 1997 and 16 February 1998 and of non-bailable warrants 17 times between 20 April 1998 and 29 April 2000. Did it ever happen in the history of judicial trial? Out of 19 accused, 16 were forced to surrender before the court in May 2000 only at the intervention of the Supreme Court, but all of them got bail from the Ghaziabad District Judge who observed that they are 'government servants' so they will not abscond, even though he knew their past records of non-appearance in the court.
In 2001, in response to a petition filed by the victims before the Supreme Court, the case was transferred from Ghaziabad to New Delhi for speedy trial. The Supreme Court transferred the case to the Tis Hazari Court and ordered for day-to-day hearing. However, the case could not be argued for long since the UP government not only deliberately delayed the appointment of the Special Public Prosecutor (SPP), but also it did show chilling apathy towards justice. Moreover, the UP government, time and again, failed to comply with the directions of the Supreme Court, for example, the first of these directives was made in 1996 while hearing a petition on the Hashimpura massacre. To add to it, the recommendations of Justice CD Parekh Commission on Meerut riots were rejected by the Kalyan Singh government. So, the case did not make any headway and the accused roamed about freely. Even SPP appointed by the UP government took no interest in discharging his duties.
In February 2004, citing the sluggish pace of court proceeding, 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. In November 2004, the UP government appointed Surinder Adlakha, a less than mediocre lawyer, as SPP, and on 15 June 2006, when the case began in the Tis Hazari Court, the Additional Session Judge, NP Kaushik, wrote a strong-worded statement against the ill-preparedness of the SPP. Exactly 19 years after the Hashimpura massacre, the Tis Hazari Court framed charges of murder, conspiracy to murder, attempt to murder, tampering with evidence etc., under various sections of the IPC. Yet, the SPP failed to present the case properly due to which prosecution evidence was not recorded though the witness-cum-survivor, Zulfikar Nasir was present in the court. Later, the Tis Hazari Court recorded the testimony of survivors, Zulfikar and Mohd Naeem, and announced a compensation package of Rs 4,60,000 for the 42 men killed by the PAC. In 2007, the victims and their relatives filed 615 RTI applications seeking information related to the killings. To their shock, the State Information Commission revealed that Hashimpura massacre finds no mention in their Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs)! Even more shocking was the fact that the ACRs of the accused bore positive remarks about their honesty and good conduct.
On 14 May 2010, Tis Hazari Court recorded statements of four witnesses who narrated how 42 Muslims were rounded up by the PAC personnel. Among the witnesses who recorded their testimony were Sirajuddin, Abdul Gaffar, Abdul Hamid and the then Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Law and Order G L Sharma. Which means the case is still far away from over and how many more years it will take is quite uncertain. However, the Hashimpura massacre has proved beyond doubt that when it comes to prosecute police personnel accused of brutal killings of civilians, it is so difficult to prosecute them. The government’s apathy helps perpetrators escape the legal punishment more than it aids the victims to get justice. Besides, the Hashimpura case points to the fact that there is urgent need to assess the role of public prosecutors who, in many cases, for example, the 2002 Gujarat riots have only helped the state to protect the accused. The victims of Hashimpura massacre still wait for the day when the 19 PAC personnel will be booked.