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Hashimpura : revisiting the "forgotten massacre"
By Subhash Gatade
|"Failure to punish perpetrators of communal violence undermines civilised democratic society. Without effective State protection of minorities, guarantee of minority rights and cultural autonomy will be a teasing illusion," Attorney General of India, Soli J. Sorabjee said at a UN Meeting For Protection and Promotion of Minorities Rights on May 20, 2002. Can a government declare members of its own Police or Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) force very much on duty and receiving regular pay as 'absconders' ? Can non-bailable warrants issued by competent Courts for these accused be returned unserved not once, not twice, but eighteen times? And would it further dare to ignore Court's orders for confiscating their property? Can it let of officers who refuse to cooperate with Commissions of Enquiry or give misleading information to them? If you want to have a fling in this topsy-turvy land you do not have to go far. It lies here in India — the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
For its sheer wanton acts of omission and commission which add to the nagging feeling of insecurity of the common man have few parallels. And the episode in question is the massacre at Hashimpura and its aftermath. It is not for nothing that a senior journalist with the Times Of India Siddharth Varadarajan in a frontpage article had commented more than two years ago, "Even by the lethargic and Kafkaesque standards of the Indian judicial system, the Hashimpura case is in a class of its own" (TOI, 17 May, 2002). The recent decision (Jagran, Hindi daily, 6 October 2002) by the Supreme Court asking for immediate transfer of the case pertaining to Hashimpura massacre from Ghaziabad Sessions Court to Delhi Sessions Court has once again brought into sharp focus the ''forgotten massacre" at Hashimpura more than 15 years ago wherein 42 innocent Muslims were killed by the UP police in cold blood. The Supreme Court in its judgement castigated the powers that be in no uncertain terms over the still-to-be-framed charges in the massacre and directed all the accused who were part of the police and PAC team to be present on 30th October when the case would come up for discussion.
As a recap of the events one may note that there was a communal conflagration at Meerut 15 years ago when the Congress ruled both in the State and the Centre. Both the police and PAC pickets were posted there to bring the situation under control. The 1994 Confidential report of the CBI throws light on the sordid saga. "On 22nd May, 1987, around 8.00 p.m. they herded 40-42 'rioters' in a PAC Truck No. UR 1493 at Hashimpura overtly for taking them to Meerut Civil Lines or Police Lines. However, the Platoon Commander S. P. Singh drove to the Upper Ganga Canal at Muradnagar (Ghaziabad) ignoring their protests. On reaching there they started shooting them down indiscriminately. When a few tried to escape they were shot down on the spot and their bodies thrown into the canal. Rest of them were taken to the Hindon canal and there the sordid show was renacted.'' It is worth noting that this action of the police was basically to terrorize and brutalize the minority population. This view has been corroborated in an article on the same theme which Iqbal Ansari wrote in the PUCL Bulletin of Feb 2001, which stated that "this was done while there was no rioting in that area of the city."
Inquiry reports by reputed journalists like Nikhil Chakravarty and Kuldip Nayar, and organisations like the People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the People's Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR) revealed that it was a case of barbaric cold-blooded murder by the PAC personnel. Nikhil Chakravarty compared the event with "Nazi pogrom against Jews, to strike terror and nothing but terror in a whole minority community." The Amnesty International's inquiry report observed: "There is evidence to suggest that members of the PAC have been responsible for dozens of extra-judicial killings and disappearances" (AI Index: ASA 20/06/87). In a joint statement eminent persons including I.K. Gujral, Rajindar Sachchar, Kuldip Nayar, Subhadra Joshi and Badr-Ud-Din Tyabji demanded that " the government must prosecute all those who have disgraced their uniform. Their misdeeds must be treated at par with treason and tried by special Courts."
In order to view these events in the proper perspective it would be necessary to look into the recommendations to the UP government by the National Minorities Commission which looked into the matter. These are dated October 12, 1999. A look at the long correspondence that preceded it will also help. The State government had also got the incident looked into by the CID. But it is intriguing to note that this internal investigation was completed only in 1993, after six years. Its findings came one year later . As if this delay was not enough it was further compounded by procrastination in implementing the action recommended. Orders in the matter were issued only in 1995 and 1997. Even in this Order action was recommended only against 19 officials as against 66 recommended in the CID report. In its recommendations to the State government, the National Minorities Commission had asked to not only to give adequate compensation to the families of the affected people but also to ensure that all those found guilty were punished. Even now, nobody can claim authoritatively that the guilty would be punished or the yearning of the affected people for justice would be fulfilled and the next of kin of those killed would get adequate compensation.
Mr Ansari rightly adds that.. the government of U.P. maintains that the amount of Rs. 40,000 it paid for each of those killed is enough. It needs to be kept in mind that Hashimpura's is a case of custodial killings by the PAC, not that of killings during riots because of failure of governance as in 1984 in Delhi for which the Delhi High Court awarded compensation of Rs. 2 lakh." The bitter fact is that while these killers of Muslims are openly moving about and the few surviving witnesses constantly move in danger to their life. The courts have revealed strange reluctance to summon the heads of Police and Security and pre-emtorily ask them to produce the accused. Although the case has been transferred to the Sessions Court in Delhi at the behest of the Supreme Court but one can easily anticipate the long and tortuous process of litigation which would take decades to complete. Looking at the track record of the UP government seeking and deriving cooperation from it to deliver justice to the victims of Hashimpura massacre appears quite impossible. It is quite natural that only last year the National Human Rights Commission in its last sixth annual report (which covers the period 1998-99) was forthright enough to declare that a 'Jungle Raj' prevails in UP. Though there has been a change of power at the state level but the saffronites still form part of the coalition in power and one does not notice any perceptible change at the level of governance.
It was reported only last year that UP is not only that the biggest state which sends the largest number of MPs to the lower house, but in effect, it also tops the list insofar as the encounter killings or custodial deaths are concerned, and as far as the number of complaints of human rights violations are concerned more than fifty percent of the complaints originate from the land of the saffronites only. (According to the available figures, the commission received a total of 40724 complaints during the year April 1998 to March 1999, out of which 54 percent were from Uttar Pradesh alone). Even after repeated reminders from the National Human Rights Commission the State government is yet to fulfill its constitutional responsibility for setting up a state Human Rights Commission. It is interesting to note that the government had issued a notification for setting up a state Human Rights Commission way back in April 1996 only. The only formalities remaining were the selection of the chairperson and members respectively. And then, suddenly the government developed a cold feet and unashamedly went back on its words. The matter is sub judice and the issue is right now pending before the High Court.
It is indeed galling to find that even more than fifty years after the formation of the Indian Republic, Hashimpura is not an exception. It is not just a synonym for massacre. It is a tendency. There is nothing new in such massacres which are well thought-out handiwork of those at the helm of power and who capitalise on them for their own narrow political and economic objectives. In the event the Constitution becomes a parody. The rules made under the Constitution only serve their interest. Even a cursory glance at the socio-political events of the post-independence half century would make the position clear.
Whether it is the notorious Bhopal Gas Tragedy; the anti-Sikh pogroms following the assassination of Indira Gandhi; or the demolition of the Babari Masjid which led to the biggest communal riots after partition or the latest post-Godhra state-sponsored pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat when the retribution was invented as a state policy by the Sangh Parivar wherein officially more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims were killed by the storm-troopers of the Bajrang Dal and VHP variety with full connivance of the new "Hindu Hriday Samrat" Narendra 'Milosevic' Modi.
Would the parties or organisations which instigated the biggest communal frenzy in independent India be punished for their inhuman acts ? Would the parties and people sitting on higher echleons of power be punished for the many inhuman acts perpetrated under their regime? Is it any easier to answer this question than the one raised at the beginning about the perpetrators of the Hashimpura orgy ? (South Asia Citizens Web) q
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