Hashimpura Massacre: Do we have a conscience?

Published: April 10, 2015 - 15:10

The survivors of the massacre have been betrayed by both the investigating agencies and the criminal justice system

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi 

On May 22, 1987, 42 Muslims were picked up from Hashimpura, Meerut, and shot dead. Their bodies were dumped in the river. Fact. Twenty-eight years later, a Delhi Court acquitted all the 16 police constables for lack of evidence. Fact. Then who killed them?

In UP police circles everyone knows who killed those hapless Muslims and on whose orders they were picked up. As a senior police officer then in service asserts, “a decision to kill so many people is not taken at the level of a Subedar or an Inspector. Surely, the orders must have come from the top.” How ‘top’ is really the question. Was it a political decision to make an example of minorities, who were getting very restive after the opening of the doors of the Babri Masjid, or was it made at the level of a local officer who wanted to either exact revenge for some unknown reason or aggravate the communal divide?

The truth is that the incident succeeded in doing both. It instilled enduring fear and loathing amongst Muslims towards the Indian State that was not influenced by who was actually in power – the Congress or the BJP. In 1987, the Congress was in power at both the centre and in Lucknow and there was nothing that prevented it from hauling up the killers. It did not do it. Instead, officers involved in the massacres at Hashimpura and Malliana were provided not just protection, but celebrated. An officer of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) who allegedly had blood on his hands was not just rewarded , but also presented as an example of efficiency and tough policing. Some of his peers still remember his candid remark, “If I did not have people of my caste in the bureaucracy, I would have been in jail or worse.”

Interestingly, since 1987, UP was ruled by practically all the political parties but not one leader or party tried to get to the bottom of the truth.

The memory of Hashimpura, which serves as a shameful blot on the country’s history of communal violence, was ironically kept alive by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. At the time he took up the case, he was in the Janata Party that was opposed to the Congress but still had pretensions of being secular. He soldiered on with the help of some survivors who retained faith in the fairness of the investigating agencies and the criminal justice system. On both counts, they were betrayed.

The judge who acquitted the 16 constables found the evidence so inadequate that he had no option but to throw out the case. This does not really mean, as the judge admitted, that the crime was not committed, but it displayed how every organ of the State was complicit in it. What is truly remarkable is that, in all these years, not a single perpetrator of the heinous crime cracked up to admit that he was there on that fateful night to kill
the innocent.

The conscience of not a single policeman was pricked to compel him to own up to the massacre. In comparison, there have been more witnesses of the violence perpetrated in other states, including Gujarat, leading to conviction of the guilty. Media investigations of Hashimpura have been nonexistent. It appears that the Congress managed to sanitise and photoshop hate-based violence in which police was involved far better than other parties.

Seymour Hersh’s investigation into the Mylai massacre that knocked the legitimacy of the US’ war against Vietnam is a case in point. More recently, he revisited the scene of the crime and tracked down the killers of Mylai and uncovered how that incident had destroyed the lives of those gullible US soldiers who followed their officer’s orders to kill the innocent. It’s a searing report of what happens to men when they follow the unjust orders of superiors to take ordinary lives. Tragically, Hashimpura and other communal riots have not given our society an opportunity to rid itself of the guilt and bring about a just and fair closure to such a brutal and divisive crime. Political parties and Muslim organisations are seeking reopening of the case, but would the outcome be any different?

This story is from print issue of HardNews