Focus

Hashimpura wounds are still raw

By Jawed Akhter
 
Delhi/Meerut: At the very first instance, you feel the distress, anger and helplessness of the victims of Hashimpura in Meerut. People of this locality once enjoyed flourishing business and the rattling of powerlooms was a regular phenomenon. Hashimpura was also a source of livelihood for many migrants who now don’t prefer to come down to this area since the massacre which devoured some migrant workers too. Back in May 1987, people of the already communally-charged Hashimpura did not have an inkling that the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), notorious for aiding and directly participating in anti-Muslim violence, was about to swallow all the youth of Hashimpura. Every youth was sorted and taken to the nearby Ganga and Hindon canals to be killed and dumped. As a result, no wedding took place in the locality for the next 12 years. We can find the agony and miseries of these Muslims writ large on the lanes and bylanes of Hashimpura. The victims still have the vivid memories of gruesome massacre inflicted by the PAC 28 years ago.

First, the army raided all the houses in Hashimpura as if it was a den of terrorists. Men, women, children and even the elderly were dragged out of their homes and made to kneel down on the main street. Then young males were selected and pushed into waiting trucks. These youth were later delivered to the PAC for an agreed operation. The rest is history.  

The Hashimpura case-one of the longest protracted trials in the country-ended on 21 March 2015 twenty eight years later when the Additional Sessions Judge Sanjay Jindal at Delhi’s Tis Hazari court acquitted all the surviving 16 PAC personnel accused in the 1987 Hashimpura massacre in which 42 Muslims were killed, saying: “It is very painful to observe that several innocent persons have been traumatized and their lives have been taken away by the state agency but the investigating agency as well as the prosecution have failed to establish the identity of culprits. The accused persons facing trial are entitled to ‘benefit of doubts’ existing in the case of prosecution.”

Experts, who have been watching this case closely, said this end was expected as the course of investigation was shoddy. And the slow pace of the trial was a clear indication of the non-serious approach and complicity of successive UP state governments in connivance with the Centre. The loopholes in the whole case and the drawn-out approach by the prosecutor led to the acquittal of the PAC personnel, though there are certain aspects which were not investigated. The victims and the civil society groups are determined to continue the legal fight. They are planning to file an appeal in the high court and also to pressurise the UP government to file an appeal separately to bring justice.   

Though the prosecution failed to establish the identities of the culprits but still many questions remain unanswered. Why did the UP government deliberately delay appointing Special Public Prosecutor, the time might have been used to destroy the evidence? Why the report of CB-CID about Hashimpura massacre was not made public? Even the court has pointed out that since this is a case where the police officers probed their own colleagues, there should be no surprise that they conducted a shoddy investigation. The UP Police neither sealed rifles used for killing persons, a basic requirement in an investigation, nor seized the truck used to transport the victims to Hindon and Ganga canals in Ghaziabad.

After being pressurised by the civil society, the UP government had ordered an inquiry into the ghastly incident by the CB-CID. A thorough inquiry report was submitted by the CB-CID in February 1994 in which 66 PAC-Police personnel of all ranks were indicted but the government gave permission to proceed against only 19 PAC personnel of lower ranks.

Of the 19 PAC men who were charged, three died in the course of the long trials. In the interim, none of these men, despite the serious charges against them, was even suspended. On the contrary, they continued in service, received honours and promotions.

At every step, the story of what happened in Hashimpura and thereafter illustrates the impunity of the state and the helplessness of ordinary people, especially if they are poor or belong to a minority community, when faced with criminal acts by representatives of the state-the police, the army, the bureaucracy or politicians. The system closes in to protect its own.

A day before the massacre of 42 Muslims, there was one more death that was reported at the Civil Lines Police Station, Meerut. According to a report by the Outlook magazine (6 April, 2015), the death of 23-year-old RSS worker Prabhat Kaushik was due to bullet-injury which was allegedly fired by someone from Hashimpura. At the time, Prabhat was standing on the roof of his aunt Shakuntala Kaushik, a firebrand BJP leader of her time. The same magazine has quoted the line written by SK Rizvi, SP of the CID, on 22 June, 1989, which says: “Soon after the incident, there was some speculation in the press that a brother of a locally posted Major Satish Chandra Kaushik had died of gunshot injuries on 21 May, 1987 in Mohalla Hashimpura. It was said that as a consequence of this personal tragedy, Major Satish Chandra engineered the murder of residents of Hashimpura on the Upper Ganga and Hindon canals.”

Vibhuti Narain Rai, the then Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, said: “Right from the very beginning I could sense that the CID was doing a shoddy investigation. Their effort was not to reach to the truth but how to save the accused and bail them out. The incident happened in the wee hours of 23rd May, 1987. We registered cases at two police stations, Murad Nagar and Link Road, and made SHOs the investigating officers. But before we could do anything, on May 24, the investigation was handed over to the CID by the then chief minister Veer Bahadur Singh.”

The investigation report given by the CB-CID was never taken into account nor was Major Jolly interrogated who was leading the Army column deployed at Hashimpura. Another Army officer, Major Kaushik, a close relative of the BJP leader, Shakuntla Kaushik, was not questioned.

“The most intriguing thing that CID wrote initially but did not pursue was Major Kaushik’s presence at Hashimpura during police searches. He had no business to be there on two accounts - one, he was not officially deployed there and second, as his younger brother was killed just a day ago he should have been at his house grieving and performing religious duties. His presence was highly suspect, why CID did not interrogate him?” said Mr. Vibhuti Narain Rai in an interview with DNA.

None of the army or CRPF personnel turned up for recording of statements even after repeated requests by the CB-CID department. While speaking to the Milli Gazette, Mr. Vibhuti said, “This is the biggest custodial killing after independence. This matter should be re-investigated within time-bound. There is a larger conspiracy. Those who were charged were only small fries. Fresh investigation will dig out more.”


Victims’ account: When PAC took away the young males from Hashimpura, there was a mother who had given birth to her baby just a day earlier. Zaibun Nisa, who lost her husband in the massacre, said, “My husband was the only source of income for the family. We have faced acute financial crises after his brutal killing, but somehow working in houses I looked after my daughters. It was very painful. A baby was born to me and the very next day my husband was killed. I have been in trauma since then.”

 

 

 

A 65-year-old resident of Hashimpura, Hafiz Sayeed tells us his story: “We lost our youth at that time. Our economy was ruined. Nobody was willing to work here due to fear since the area was targeted. Earlier, outside labourers, especially from Bihar, would work in our handlooms, but now people fear to come here.”

“We are still terrified. We flee our homes whenever there is an incident,” said 30-year-old resident of Hashimpura, Naushad. Moinuddin, 65-year-old now, recalled his agony of the tortuous days he had to face when he was arrested along with others and lodged in Agra jail. He faced inhuman torture and was brutally beaten up by the jail police. He recounted the atrocity sobbing, “I was almost dead. The police tortured me and beat me up mercilessly. We were subject to inhuman atrocity even in the jail.”  

It were the survivors of that massacre who exposed the gruesome killing of Hashimpura Muslims. They had feigned death but managed to return home once the PAC men departed. Without these survivors the world would have never known how the PAC butchered Muslim youth.   

Zulfiqar Nasir, a survivor of the massacre, recounted the incident: “I was pushed into the last truck. They took us to Muradnagar. There, they first shot Yasin, Ashraf then I was to be killed. They shot me but somehow the bullet passed me only touching my side, then I was thrown into the canal. Qamaruddin was there, He was still alive. I took him to the road. But he told me to save my life as he was about to die. So I left him there and with great difficulty managed to save own life.”

 

 

 

Mohammad Nayim, another survivor, said, “The judgment is not right. The state government complicity is very much clear in the case. Every effort was made to weaken the case. We will file an appeal against the judgment and the government should also file a separate appeal.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usman, a third survivor of the massacre, said, “Our area was already communally tense before 22 May, 1987. Army came and dragged us out of our homes. They made us kneel down on the road. Later, the army handed us over to the PAC who pushed us into the trucks at around 7.30 pm. They took us near Ganga canal in Muradnagar, which I later came to know after I survived. I don’t know why we were targeted, and why our people were brutally killed. They started firing at point blank. I was also shot at. Considering me dead they threw me into the canal, but fortunately I somehow managed to come out and reach a hospital.”

 

 

 

 

Another survivor, Mujiburrahman, who is from Bihar but has been living at Hashimpura for long said, “Due to the already prolonged communal tension in the area, we were inside our houses. Army came and dragged us out of our homes. They took us to Muradnagar canal and started firing desperately at us. My uncle died in the same truck. I was thrown into the canal. But luckily I survived.”  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Babuddin from Darbhanga, who has been working in a powerloom in Hashimpura since his childhood, also survived the PAC atrocity. He said, “I was thrown into the Hindon canal. I am the lone survivor in that massacre. Patrolling police took me from there to Link Road Police Station. That was how I survived.”


 

 

 

 

 

Political Conspiracy: The Meerut riots of 1987 were sparked by the opening of the Babri Masjid lock to Hindu worshippers in 1986, under a conspiracy hatched by the Congress government. The three largest riots in India since 1947 - Nellie-Assam 1983, Delhi 1984 and Moradabad 1980 - have all occurred under Congress rule. The Mumbai riots of 1992-93 too occurred due to the partisan role of the Congress-controlled police force.

 

At every step, the story of what happened in Hashimpura and thereafter illustrates the impunity of the state and the helplessness of ordinary people, especially if they are poor or belong to a Muslim community. The horrible murder of Hashimpura Muslims was made worse by the systematic neglect of the issue by successive state governments, shabby investigation and protracted judicial processes which prolonged the agony of the survivors and the families of the victims. The delay in justice delivery only consolidates the institutionalised and systemic violence against Muslims making them lose trust and faith in the state machinery.

(With input from Kausar Usman)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2015 on page no. 1

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