Blood on their conscience

<!-- begin content -->Two decades after the mass murder by the PAC of innocent citizens at Hashimpura in Meerut, injustice and tragedy stalk the life of the survivors
Akash Bisht Delhi
It has been 20 years since the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) shot dead 40 Muslim men of Hashimpura in Meerut, western UP. After waiting for justice for two decades, the survivors and victims filed 615 applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005, at the director general of police's office in Lucknow dem-anding information related to the killings.
Vrinda Grover, a human rights lawyer based in Delhi, appointed by the victims, says, “For the first time since its adoption, the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 has been used on May 24, 2007 to challenge the impunity of the State and seek accountability from those who have perpetrated mass custodial murder of over 40 Muslim men of Hashimpura locality on May 24, 1987.”
On May 24, 1987, the PAC of UP, known for its anti-minority communal stance over the years, randomly picked up 'Muslim men', most of them young people from Hashimpura and shot them dead in cold-blood. Narrating this incident, Shakeel Ahmed, who was then 6-year-old, tells how PAC men forcibly picked up his brother. “The police came to my house and forcibly picked up my brother. When I tried resisting, they kicked me so hard that I became unconscious. I woke up to the news of my brother having been shot dead and thrown into the Hindon Canal.”
Shakeel is now 26-year-old and wants justice for his brother. He rues, “My brother, Mohammed Nayeem, was the only bread- earner of the family and after he was gone we were on streets with nothing to eat. I had to discontinue my education and had to work at a very early age to support my family. These men not only killed my brother, they also killed my dreams and my family's dream of a better life.”
Many others like Shakeel are now determined to get justice for these cold-blooded killings by the PAC. “While our families suffered, these PAC men have been out on bail and have been getting promotions. When the law states that it is same for everyone then why is it different for the police personnel who mercilessly killed my brother for unknown reasons,” asks Naseem. who lost her only brother on that fateful night.
On the night of May 22, 1987, Meerut was recovering after the communal violence that flared up after Rajiv Gandhi decided to open the gates of the Babri Masjid. The riot was quickly brought under control; there were widespread reports of police atrocities, houses, shops and factories being burnt down. The city was burning. The PAC enclosed the Hashimpura and adjacent area and forced the residents onto waiting trucks. In this operation, 644 men, all Muslims, were arrested and sent to police lock-ups where they were brutally beaten up. These men were shifted to jails where five of them were reportedly beaten to death by the other inmates.
In Hashimpura, some 50 men, whose age ranged from 13-65 years, of the 150 detained, were then loaded onto a yellow PAC truck with the 41st Vahini PAC, according to reports. The truck was reportedly under the command of Platoon Commander Surinder Pal Singh along with 18 other PAC personnel armed with .303 rifles. The truck left leaving the family members wailing. The truck stopped at the Upper Ganga Canal in Murad Nagar where 20-25 men were shot by the PAC and then thrown into the canal. After the PAC saw a milk van approaching the canal, they took the truck to Hindon canal where the rest of the men were shot and thrown in the canal. As documented reports and evidence suggest, the PAC murdered 42 innocent Indian citizens, all Muslims, and caused permanent disability to two survivors. A policeman later confirmed seeing the blood-stained PAC truck entering PAC premises.
Around midnight five survivors miraculously emerged from the Upper Ganga Canal and one from the Hindon Canal. The lone survivor, Babuddin, of the Hindon canal, then lodged an FIR at Link Road Police Station in Meerut. The other three injured men then picked up from the Upper Ganga Canal by a police jeep and taken to Murad Nagar Police Station. Qamruddin, one of the survivors, died en-route to the hospital while the other two survivors, Mohammed Usman and Mujibur Rehman, were taken to AIIMS in Delhi and a Mohan Nagar hospital respectively.
One of the survivors of the massacre, Zulfikar Nasir, later reached Delhi and met politician Syed Shahbuddin and narrated the incident. Shahabuddin held a press conference on these killings. Later, the police confirmed that dead bodies were found floating in the canal and VN Rai, SP, Ghaziabad, an upright officer, insisted on filing police complaints, but the top political and police leadership reportedly wanted to hush-up the story. In a statement, IK Gujral, Justice Rajinder Sachar, Kuldip Nayar and others demanded prosecution of the accused. Late veteran journalist Nikhil Chakravarty compared the killings with “Nazi pogroms against the Jews, to strike terror and nothing but terror in a whole minority community”.
After pressure from all quarters the UP government ordered an enquiry by the Crime Branch (CB), CID. The CB-CID took six years and submitted its report to the UP government. Later, a chargesheet was filed in the court of chief judicial magistrate, Ghaziabad, only against 19 PAC men, mostly of junior ranks. While as many as 66 PAC men were indicted in the report, the government gave sanction for the prosecution of only 19 members. Between 1997-2000, no accused appeared before the Ghaziabad court while six bailable and 17 non-bailable warrants were issued against the accused who remained active in service, according to reports. But the trial did not begin.
Finally, as a consequence of the pressure of the Supreme Court, 16 of the 19 accused surrendered in May 2000, 13 years after the incident. They were granted bail. The victims filed a petition before the Supreme Court to transfer the case to Delhi. The case was transferred to the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi with an order for a day-to-day hearing.
Exactly 19 years after the shootout, the Tis Hazari court framed charges of murder, conspiracy to murder, attempt to murder, tampering with evidence etc under various sections of the IPC. Most surprisingly, the prosecution evidence was not recorded though the witness/survivor Zulfikar Nasir was present in the court as the government failed to produce the case properly.
Later, the court recorded the testimony of survivors, Zulfikar and Mohd Naem, and announced a compensation package of Rs 4,60,000 for the 43 men killed by the PAC. The trial court passed an order for a day-to-day hearing from February 8, 2007. However, in April 2007, the case was transferred to the court of Rajesh Kumar, ASJ, Delhi. On May 19, 2007, the court adjourned the case for July 31, for recording of prosecution evidence. The counsel of victims argued for a short date and drew attention to the delay of over 20 years.
Said Vrinda Grover, “Hashimpura is undoubtedly the worst incident of communally motivated custodial killings in independent India. But these people are determined to get justice and this is a perfect example of the people's desire for justice.”
In these RTI applications, the survivors and victims are asking as to why the accused PAC men were not suspended? Were they rewarded any promotions? How many persons were indicted by the CB-CID report? Why did the government sanction criminal proceedings against only 19 men and not all the accused? Why did the CB-CID take 6-7 years to complete the enquiry and why was the report not made public? Why was the chargesheet filed only in May 1996?
Said Naseem, “My parents died waiting for justice and I might also die waiting for justice; but I will fight till my last breath so that I can show my face to my brother when I meet him in heaven.”

Blood on their conscience | Hard News