By Syyed Mansoor Agha
A two-judge bench of Delhi High Court comprising Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, overturning a trial court’s verdict, convicted 16 former PAC personnel and sentenced them to life imprisonment (till death) for the mass custodial murder of Hashimpura people, a Meerut city locality near Shah Peer Gate. The HC found that 38 people were killed and five survived. The court said the incident was a “targeted killing” of unarmed and “defenseless” people. The trial court had acquitted them in March 2015 after finding that “it has not been proved beyond reasonable doubts” that the accused were PAC officials.
The incident occurred in the night of 22-23 May 1987 (13-14 Ramadan 1407), when around 70 persons were rounded up from their houses. Some were taken to police station and released later. Rest were taken out of the city and shot dead at two places. FIRs were recorded at two PS stations but state government did not let police investigate and handed over the case to CID within 40 hours. Later after much hue and cry and political pressure, State Government headed by Bir Bahadur Singh, instituted a CBCID inquiry. The report was not made public. Though the CBCID had indicted more than sixty PAC and police personnel of all ranks, the Government of UP gave permission for prosecution of only 19 of them, all of lower ranks. Three of them died during the pendency of the case. In spite of the criminal case filed in the court, all the accused were given full state protection, get routine promotions and retired after complication of the service. No adverse note was made on their personal service books. All 16 are now held guilty of criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, killing and destruction of evidence under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The memories of the horrific incident of the hot and humid night of (22-23 May 1987) still send shrill in the backbone of those who were directly or indirectly affected by the unprecedented mass-custodial killing of 42 or 38 Hashimpura residents, all belonging to Minority community. The incident will go down in the history as the wickedest cruel act of those who were entrusted the guardianship of the law, order and duty-bound protectors of the safety and security of the citizens. Cold-blooded mass murder is not merely a crime of killing defenseless human beings but also defying of ethics of the law and morality, and subverting the secular polity into the religio-political hegemony of the majority. What had happened that night in Hashimpura reminds us the atrocities of Hitler’s regime of the 1930s.
Hashimpura (1987) was preceded by the equally horrific killing of Sikh brothers in 1984, after the murder of the then P.M. Indira Gandhi. Both acts were enacted under the same regime. But in some aspects, Hashimpura is more dreaded as State machinery was directly used to kill the people. There is another difference. The rulers returned with the unprecedented majority in the general elections followed just after Sikhs-mass killing (1684). But while enacting parallel agenda for Ayodhya and then for Hashimpura, they forget that sympathy wave after Indira Gandhi’s murder catapulted parted to huge success. And the misadventure of Hashimpura proved waterloo for the ruling party in Delhi and in UP. Meerut, which was a stronghold of the Indian National Congress, had become alien since then. The party lost UP after opening the Ayodhya locks and the Shilnyas. Hashimpura was an offshoot of these acts. People were angry and so communal incidents. The Government took to State-Terror act to suppress the mass sentiments. But the strategy boomerang. It may be mentioned that before Ayodhya and Hashimpura Meerut was a stronghold of Congress. The constituency sends Shah Nawaz Khan, a veteran of Azad Hind Fauj to Lok Sabha for four times (1952, 1957, 1961 and 1971) and Mohsina Kidwai two times (1980 and 1984). Now Congress has been pushed back.
After 31 years of the crime, punishing 16 low ranking personals of PAC with jail terms is not equivalent to the gravity of the crime. Yes, they indiscriminately picked the people from their houses, packed them in PAC truck, derived them at a deserted place on the banks of Upper Ganga Canal near Muradnagar, and in the ravines of Makandpur, ordered them to scale down, pulled the trigger against them and threw half dead bodies in the canal. Only a few were recovered later. But can anybody believe that the convicted police personals would have acted at their own and went scot-free? Certainly, they didn’t. As Mr. Vibhuti Narain Rai, IPS wrote, “My 36 years of experience in service tells me that a sub-inspector cannot take the decision of picking up 42 Muslims and killing them. Even if he decides to do so in all his stupidity, those under his command will not obey him. Everybody knows the consequences. One can dare to undertake such a misadventure only when one is sure of impunity.”
The former IPS officer, who was posted as SP of Ghaziabad at that time was first to visit the crime-scene while blood was still oozing from the bodies and some injured persons were found alive. He further noted, “One-and-a-half dozen head constables and constables could obey the command of Platoon Commander Surendra Pal Singh only because they were assured that no harm will come to them. Who gave them this assurance — some senior police officers, politicians or administrators? Nothing happened to them.”
In a recent article (IE 3 Nov) he wrote, “There are many open secrets, which were known to people in and around Meerut. …. While scanning the documents of the CID, I stumbled upon many leads which were leading the investigators to the perpetrators. Why did the CID suddenly decide not to pursue those leads?”
The Wednesday verdict may be of some satisfaction, but those convicted after 31 years, were protected all along by various regimes. Their service books remained clean; they got regular increments and promotions in the services and retired with full benefits. Most of them are above seventy. Even if they sent to jail, they will be treated there as “heroes”. To me, their only fault was that they failed to stand loyal to the law, to the constitution and to the nation. They all became loyal to the political and administrative bosses. This is the condition to-day in all civil and police administration. The sapling planted in 1984 and 1987 has grown into a huge tree of criminal mentality taken over dutifulness to the law and rule book.
I myself belonged to Meerut and few of my known families were also ruined in Hashimpura. I feel pained and bewildered. But Meerut has many persons like Hafiz Yameen, who in spite of his limited resources fought for the cause until his last breath. He often used to visit me in the office of Daily Qaumi Awaz in New Delhi to brief the developments. Syed Aasim Ali Sabzwari, Advocate was another important well informed and brave active person. Jalaluddin and Zulfiqar Nasir, lucky survivors also did a great job in this case. I wish to congratulate all who played a role in this matter.
The HC judgment may be of some consolation. But it is a failure of our system that none of the stakeholders of the Social Democratic Republic of India — the political leadership, police and civil administration, media and judiciary remain reluctant to book higher-ups and establish the supremacy of the law. If we are really committed to keeping India a democratic republic, we will have to ensure that “Hashimpura never happens again.” When Justice Rajinder Sachchar encountered the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as head of NCPUL, Mr. Gandhi did express his sympathy for the cause, but remained reluctant for some decisive action, as “morale of the police” was more important even if they were involved in killing so many people.
[Syyed Mansoor Agha is a Civil Rights Activist and a Journalist based in Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com]