United in massacres and impunity

By Mahtab Alam

Last year, on 3 June 2011, Bhajanpura village of Forbesganj block (Araria district, Bihar) witnessed police firing on a number of villagers while they were protesting against the blockage by a private company of a road that connected their village to the Idgah, Karbala and market. The firing was ordered by the then Superintendent of Police (SP), Garima Malik. In the firing at Bhajanpura, four civilians, including a woman and an infant, were killed on the spot and nine were badly injured.

During my visit to the village, I was told that in addition to the SP and the SDO, a local councilor (with political links to BJP and Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Modi) was also present, and not only did he instigate the police, he himself personally fired upon the villagers. The protestors were chased into their homes and killed. Later, a gruesome video recording of a policeman jumping and trampling upon the bodies of the injured, half-dead young men, exposed the depths to which the state machinery had plummeted in the name of upholding ‘law and order’, and the reality of ‘good governance’ propagated by Nitish Kumar government.  

A year after the brutal killings, the victims are still waiting for justice. The one-man Commission instituted to investigate the matter is yet to submit its report, though it was supposed to do it within six months of its institution. Similarly, the report of the fact-finding team of the National Commission of Human Rights (NHRC), which visited the village in the month of July last year, is yet to be made public. So far, compensation has not been granted on the plea that the matter is under investigation. Not a single officer or police personnel or private parties involved in the firing have been suspended or charged. Moreover, when a PIL was filled at the Supreme Court of India seeking CBI enquiry into the matter, the Bihar government did not initially take serious notice of the Supreme Court,  and later, through an affidavit, it termed the killings as a ‘minor incident’. But this is not the first time that the state and its apparatus have denied justice to its citizens. Looking at various cases of police firing and state-supported violence, it is evident that it has become a pattern of ‘governance’.

Take the case of Gopalgarh village of Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. On 14 September last year, ten people were killed and 38 injured by police firing while praying inside the Jama Masjid. The incident took place when the police resorted to indiscriminate firing on the mosque amid tension between Gujjars and Muslims. Some of the policemen even joined the armed Gujjar mob which stormed into the mosque and lynched the worshippers. The firing was ordered by the Bharatpur Collector Krishna Kunal. After much pressure and statewide protests, the Collector was suspended for his failure to control the communal violence. But recently, in a quiet move following a stay granted by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Congress-led Government in Rajasthan has reinstated Krishna Kunal!

The list of massacres and impunity does not end here. Here is another story from the southern state of Kerala. On 17 May, 2009, the Kerala police entered a Muslim fishermen colony at Beemapalli and opened fire at the locals, killing six and injuring 52. The deceased included a 16-year-old boy playing cricket at the beach, who after being shot at, was attacked with the bayonet of a gun. Three years down the line, nothing has yet been done. The judicial commission instituted under the chairmanship of Justice K Ramakrishnan in August 2009, which began functioning on 17 March, 2010 and collected evidences from almost 60 witnesses, submitted its report to the Chief Minister on 4 January, 2012. However, the report is yet to be made public, leave alone the question of implementing its recommendations. The firing took place when the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)-led Left Democratic Front government was in power. Now, the state is ruled by the Congress-led United Democratic Front, with the Muslim League as its major ally. Despite the change in power, the ‘secular’ Congress, and the ‘Champion of the Muslim Cause’ -- the Muslim League -- being at the helm of affairs, there is no sign of justice. The way government after government try to hush-up the cases indicates that they are nothing but partners in crime.

Here, one is also reminded of the cases of communal violence in Rudrapur (Uttarakhand), Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh), and many others like them. However, the classic case out of all these is the case of Hashimpura, a town near Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, which took place 25 years ago. On 22 May, 1987, in Hashimpura, 42 innocent Muslims were killed in cold blood by the personnel of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC). Vibhuti Narayan Rai, the then Superintendent of Police of the nearby district Ghaziabad, and one of the witnesses of the massacre, told this writer once, “There are some experiences that stick with you throughout your life. They always stay with you like a nightmare and sometimes are like debts on your shoulders”. He added that “the experience at Hashimpura massacre was such an experience for me”.  

Trial in the case, which was transferred from Ghaziabad court to Tis Hazari, Delhi, on the orders of the Supreme Court, is yet to conclude. Advocate Akbar Abidi, additional special public prosecutor told this writer last year that the case was in the last stages of the presentation of prosecution witnesses. There were around 140 witnesses in the case, out of which more than 20 died during the last 24 years. Eighty three witnesses have already been produced before the court. Even the accused, 19 in all, got reduced to 16; three died during the course of this period. Despite all this, the matter is still in the court and the victims are still in the hope of getting justice.

Forbesganj, Hashimpura, Beemmapalli, Gopalgarh, Rudrapur and many other parts of India might not have any direct geographical or political connection but there is something which connects them all together: massacres and impunity. Crime, nay terror and violence unleashed by the State and its various agencies, denial of justice to the victims of these massacres and killings. At all these places, while the victims live in fear, the perpetrators are roaming free under the patronage of the state governments. Notably, it does not matter which political party is in power. It includes, from the ‘secular’ Congress to the ‘communal’ BJP to the ‘torchbearers’ of social justice, the JDU and BSP to the Marxist - CPM.  When it comes to punishing police personnel and state officials, all are alike. In short, it can be said that all these governments may be divided by parties but are united in massacres and impunity!

The author is a civil rights activist and freelance journalist based in Delhi.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2012 on page no. 1

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