By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Nearly 31 years after the ghastly massacre of 42 Muslims by the goons of the Provincial Arms Constabulary, notoriously known as PAC in the Hashimpura locality of Meerut on May 22nd, 1987, Delhi High Court over turned a lower court verdict which exonerated 16 accused of the PAC. The High Court sentenced them to life imprisonment.
But the picture is not finished yet. The convicted have option to approach the Supreme Court and none know how long will this entire process take. The judgment came on the day when the country was remembering former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on her death anniversary on October 31st who was killed by her security guards who were posted in her house, in 1984. Delhi witnessed the pogrom of innocent Sikhs for several days. Thousands killed. Mrs Gandhi’s killers were sentenced to death but those who were butchered by the mob in close connivance of the state are still waiting for justice.
Delhi 1984, Hashimpura 1987 and Gujarat 2002 have several things in common which is participation of Indian state apparatus in the massacre. The second thing which is common is that the victims of the state savagery are the minorities, particularly the Muslims. The third point is the involvement of the ruling parties in these and absolute impunity that the police and administration enjoyed during the massacres. Fourth is the justification of these pogroms through whisper campaign of the Hindutva which supported Congress in 1984. Fifth, media focused more on the ‘primary’ incidents and gave a reason for the same and rarely talked about the survivors who have rarely got justice.
In the Hashimpura case, we heard that Delhi High Court sentenced 16 accused of the PAC life imprisonment. Can we really be proud of our judicial system and law enforcing agencies. Thirty years passed people are still roaming for justice. Why is that the blatant violation of our Constitutions by the state apparatus on May 22nd 1987 has gone without any strong action of the state? How can this be treated a small incident when the PAC collect 50 innocent Muslims in Hashimpura, board them on its truck and take them towards Gang Nahar, Ganga canal, near Muradnagar, in Ghaziabad, shoot them point blank and throw their bodies in the canal. Mind you, this was secular Congress government in both Uttar Pradesh and at the Center.
The butchery of the Muslims at the hands of police went without any specific action by the Congress leadership which wanted to look secular on the Shahbano issue. The government on its own showed no concern to deal with it and win back the confidence of the Muslims. The only argument the Congress gave was that the RSS was involved in spreading the riots but why have you allowed it to do so? Rajiv Gandhi never visited Meerut and justified the violence against Sikhs in 1984 saying: ‘jab bad ped girta hai to dharti hilti hai i.e. when a big tree fall, the earth trembles’.
It is important to understand and analyse the narrative ‘responsible’ for the violence and how police become mute to the dominant communities and trained to treat every Muslim or Sikh, Dalit, Adivasi as suspect. It is not for the unknown reasons that every Muslim locality in India was termed as ‘samvedansheel’ or ‘sensitive’ and most of the time whenever there was curfew due to some disturbances all these ‘sensitive’ areas would come under the police watch. The committee consisted Justice Rajinder Sachar, Mr I K Gujaral, Prof A M Khusro, Prof Dalip Swamy, Prof K C Gupta said the following about PAC:
“What the police did in Hashimpura is something which can never be lived down and the shame of this will continue to haunt any civilised Government. We talked to old persons whose sons and grand-sons were taken away by the police. We met young women whose husbands were taken away and later on they were either missing or their dead bodies were found. The way the residents of Hashimpura were treated was shameful. We were told that hundreds of people were taken out from the locality and asked to sit on the road. One army person asked people over 50 years and less than 10-12 years to get on one side and all the others were dumped into waiting trucks. We were told by one Ahmed, who had got away on the excuse that he had his MA examination that morning, and that 3 of his colleagues, namely, Kamaludin S/o Jamaludin, Sarajudin S/o Sabarudin, Nasim S/o Nasim Ahmed, had been taken away on the trucks. These three had not come back thereafter and the father Jamaludin corroborated this version.
Out of 42 only 6 persons are traceable, others have just disappeared. There is no record of these persons with the police. Abdu Bhai the grandfather of Zulfikar told that Arif and Karimuddin were also with his grandson. They were arrested together and taken in a truck to Muradnagar and when the truck reached a canal Zulfikar saw Karimuddin being shot by the PAC and thrown in the canal. More than 20 bodies have in fact been found floating in the Ganga Canal.
One of us (Mr Rajindar Sachar) on coming back from there wrote to the Chief Minister of UP bringing to his notice as to how hundreds of people had been taken away and how many had died and were not traceable and requesting that the matters needed to be immediately looked into. A copy of these letters was also sent to the Prime Minister for doing the needful. We are sorry to say that not even an acknowledgement was received from the Chief Minister of U P or from the Prime Minister.
The other group of 324 persons was taken to the civil lines Police Station, where they were beaten. After keeping them for a night they were shifted to Meerut jail, where their injuries were noted down. Subsequently other criminal prisoners were provoked to beat them up. Some were shifted to Fatehgarh jail, where 5 persons died inside the jail. Abdul Rashid and Nasirudin, who remained in Fatehgarh jail for 21 days, narrated the inhuman treatment meted out to their group in the jail. They were mercilessly beaten; five of them died inside the jail. The DM confirmed the deaths inside jail and pointed out that a CID enquiry was instituted, though he pleaded that it was outside his jurisdiction.
Another gory incident related to village of Maliana. The PAC picket is accused of having fired indiscrimi¬nately and killed 2 dozen people and grim destruc¬tion of property also took place. The Maliana incident has left a deep scar as the allegation was that the police systematically killed Muslims without any provocation. It is a matter of regret that though judicial enquiry is ordered, its findings have still not seen the light of the day. This incident continues to act as a constant source of bitterness between the two communities. Unfortunately though PAC is responsible for this carnage, Hindus get the blame because Muslims believe that this was done because PAC is a Hindu police and they acted in a communal way and not as a law and order force.”
The Delhi high court judgment is categorical that the killings of the 42 people by the PAC are purely custodial. The court observed:
“A disturbing aspect of the present case is the targeted killings of persons belonging to one minority community. (para 101) The present case involved the abduction of 42 to 45 persons belonging to the minority community and killing of 38 of them soon after the incident of riots in which two rifles of the PAC were allegedly taken away by the rioters. It points to the disproportionate reaction by the PAC in targeting the members of the minority community. The Court is therefore unable to accept the submission on behalf of the accused that the motive for the commission of the crime was not proved. (para 104)
(xv) This Court recommends that every State Legal Services Authority should designate a Nodal Officer to address the needs of the victim families in the case of custodial killings or State excesses. The procedure put in place should ensure that such victims or the families are able to access and seek relief under the scheme and that such Crl.A.574, 629 and 884 of 2015 Page 71 of 73 relief should not be limited to monetary compensation but other range of reliefs respecting the rights to basic survival and dignity of such families.”
Hashimpura slaughter happened nearly two and half years later of what India witnessed the worst ever crime against humanity in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Delhi on October 31st, 1984. More than 8000 people were killed in Delhi alone though the official figure is much below this. As Indira Gandhi was killed by two of her security guards who happened to Sikhs, Delhi and many other parts of north India decided to lynch and burn every Sikh to avenge her killing. As usual the police did not take any action and gave a free hand to rioters who were mostly Congressmen, says Joseph Maliakan, 70, journalist working with the Indian Express, who was among a couple of others witness to the horrific pogroms of the Sikhs in Trilokpuri, in the East Delhi. ‘No riots can ever happened unless there is specific involvement of the police as it knows everything of the area’. Speaking about the ghastly crime against humanity at Triokpuri, Maliakan virtually cries speaking about the incidents as tears automatically rolls down from his eyes. I saw people pouring kerosene on innocent Sikhs and putting them on fire. I was helpless along with my colleague and friend, Rahul Bedi, who he describe much bolder and courageous than him. As he walked through the streets he saw hundreds of corps lying and police providing kerosene and other inflammable items to the goons to put them on fire’. I ask as why police was doing so. The dead bodies were so much that it was beyond their control to carry out post mortem. Secondly, they wanted to kill all kind of witness and proof hence best way was to completely burnt the bodies and finish everything.” Maliakan also says that for every crime the police would simply blame either the Dalits or the Muslims. The dirty reality is that all those officers whose were actually involved in it got plump positions in power. Some of them were awarded with party ticket in the Lok Sabha. Congress played dirty with it and both Rajiv Gandhi as well as the then home minister Narsimha Rao should be held responsible for this massacre, says Maliakan.
If we compare all the three, the state got a license to butcher the minorities on some pretext or others. In 1987, a land dispute between a Muslim and a Hindu was converted into a war between the two communities. Rumours have field day in all the riots such as Pig head found in Masjids and dead cows in the temple. A cow and a pig are enough to boil India and compel the communities to kill each other. In a Muslim locality, the death of a police personnel resulted in PAC targeting Muslims. All Muslims became suspect and their houses were raided in both Hashimpura and Maliana. A huge number of them were picked up and tortured. Later the PAC had the audacity to herd them together in their truck and fire at them at point blank killing a majority of them. Those who survived actually were left because they were presumed to be dead. This was copied from what happened on 31st October 1984 when Mrs Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Now, rumors started floating in that Sikhs were celebrating and distributing sweets on her killings. The pattern got repeated in Gujarat 2002, after the pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were butchered in Godhara by the terrorists.
Everywhere, one incident involving persons from minorities become reason to punish the entire community and police join hands with the Hindu fanatics. It becomes a war where Muslim locations are carefully searched and declared as ‘sensitive’. Sikhs faced it in the aftermath of the operation blue star at the Golden Temple in June 1984 when each one of them became suspect. They were mocked and their patriotism was doubted. Every one of them became a ‘Pakistani’ agent who needs to be taught a lesson. The Muslims are being taught a lesson for partition and creation of Pakistan which was no fault of them. The Sangh Parivar has not given us idea of India and how can keep such a diverse country unified if the Gujarati hegemonistic tendencies are not controlled or curtailed.
We have all seen the outcome of our investigation reports. In the aftermath of 1993 riots, Bombay witnessed massive incidents of bomb blasts killing hundreds. But the same Bombay saw Muslims being killed by the political goons having allegiance to saffron party. The perpetrators of the crimes have been politically honored everywhere. Rajiv Gandhi won massive mandate after butchering of Sikhs in Delhi and Narendra Modi became undisputed champion of Gujarat after 2002 while Akhilesh Yadav had to lose and pave the way to Yogi Adityanath after Mujaffarnagar riots. Despite all hue and cries, survivors of these pogroms have been further reduced to marginalization. The Sikh victims of Delhi holocaust are still waiting for justice while the ring leaders got elected and became ministers. The destroyers of the Babari Masjid have now accomplished the entire country ‘democratically’.
The institutions have failed because the state wants to utilize them politically. Vilification of Muslims is useful and a sure guarantee for their return to power. RSS has succeeded in Hinduising the entire polity which was their dream hence even if BJP does not come to power, no party would be able to undo what Narendra Modi government has done. It is not possible for parties and courts to remove the statue of Manu from the premises of Rajasthan High Court in Jaipur. It would be difficult to undo things in Ayodhya despite prime minister Narsimha Rao promised to the nation that the Masjid would be rebuilt. That was a promise he made and none followed it up.
Nation is already pushed to further polarization. War cries of Lord Shri Rama is already reverberating in the air. Now, they are looking for scape goats and they need Muslims to vilify them. India’s important democracy which could also be termed brahmanical manipulations of the democratic process to unleash undemocratic methods and violence on its people, is crumbling but it will continue to provide rich dividend to priestly corporate castes. To remain in power, the brahmanical system has to vilify some people and glorify the others. The Sants are already screaming for the Ram Mandir. None is bothered about the cries and tears of the fellow citizens killed by a thoroughly corrupted, communal and casteist police. No policeman can do things at his own unless there are blessings of the top leadership. Leaders have known that vilifying Muslims is the best bet for them to come to power and get strengthened. It is sad that the idea of India is getting defeated every day and every elections when undemocratic fascist forces getting elected through democratic mechanism. India has to seriously think of its future. Indian democracy is turning the country undemocratic and isolating its minorities and marginalized. It is time for us to ponder over whether we really want to be called an inclusive democracy or we want it the sole club of the casteist brahmanical elite.
We don’t know when will the justice be served to the people. But delaying things too is a matter of shame. The courts need to come harsh on the state apparatus and provide honorable rehabilitation. Why should people run here and there to get the compensation? Why can’t the authority reach them and do it themselves.
Delhi High Court’s judgment delivered by Justice Murlidhar and Justice Vinod Goel is highly appreciable but it is time for all of us including the courts to develop a framework to resolve these issues including complete rehabilitation and compensation of the survivors and severe punishments of the officials. The case is not closed yet and we will have to wait for Supreme Court’s final verdict on the issue yet one thing is clear that India is in a mess and if issues are not settled constitutionally and amicably, we will only prove Winston Churchill right that Indians cant govern themselves and not really deserve independence. Will our political parties, judiciary, media, civil society rise upto the occasion and provide a fully inclusive and democratic alternatives to all these issues including the blot on our nation, these pogroms which we call riots where state apparatus have been found in active connivance with the religious bigots.