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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 50 New Delhi December 1, 2018

Retelling the Tale of Hashimpura Massacre

Sunday 2 December 2018, by Arup Kumar Sen

The story of Hashimpura massacre in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh (UP), committed more than three decades back, has come back to the public domain after the recent verdict of the Delhi High Court, which sentenced 16 Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel involved in the massacre to life imprisonment. There are different narratives of the massacre. “One theory is that the killings were retribution for the murder of Prabhat Kaushik, a young Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker who had died of a bullet injury. The shots were allegedly fired from Hashimpura. This was on May 21 (1987). It was alleged that the Prabhat’s brother, Satish Kaushik, who was posted as a major in Meerut then, had orchestrated the custodial killings to avenge his personal loss.”

But, there are other narratives of the pre-history of the massacre. According to Shadab Rizvi, a senior journalist, who reported the incident from Meerut, there was “no direct link” between Prabhat’s murder and the massacre. His account of the events leading up to the massacre tells us that “the PAC men were angry with the Muslims of Hashimpura over their aggressive stance” during a search operation in the area following a communal incident a day earlier. What happened on the “fateful day” of May 22, 1987? Reportedly, “the most popular narrative is that...the Army went on a door-to-door and roof-to-roof search-and-arrest operation and rounded up over 600 Muslim men. They were then paraded out of the narrow lanes to the main street, near a peepal tree. The Army then handed over the men to the PAC who sorted them into three groups: the aged, the boys and the young men. Between 42 and 45 of the healthiest men were then packed inside a yellow-colored truck of the C-Company of the PAC’s 41st battalion and driven away.”

What was the fate of those healthiest men of the community? To put it in the words of Shadab Rizvi: “They took them to a canal in Ghaziabad and killed them there for the reason that the battalion was based there and they felt it was a lot safer.” (See the report of Omar Rashid from Meerut in The Hindu, November 10, 2018, for the above narratives)

Asad Rehman, a student of journalism, visited Hashimpura in 2016 and talked to the people about the massacre. He was surprised to listen to the same story from the survivors and the later generation members of the community. To put it in the words of Asad:

What surprised me most was how... the tale of a fateful Friday—May 22, 1987—was repeated in an entire community, across genders and generations, almost an incantation. Zarina, 61, remembers exactly what happened on “Alvida”, the last Friday in the month of Ramzan in 1987: “PAC personnel barged into our house from the terrace and started assaulting the men in the house. They lined up all the men on the main road and then took most of them to police stations, barring the 42 who were taken to Ghaziabad. The 42 men were lined up and shot at in cold blood.” Zarina’s husband was one of the 42. He did not survive the shooting. Arif, born 15 years after the Hashimpura massacre, tells the same story, almost verbatim. “I have heard the tales so many times, it’s almost as if I was there.” Arif’s father was kept in jail for three weeks, tortured and later released. (Asad Rehman, ‘A Single Tale’, The Indian Express, November 12, 2018)

Now, let us listen to Vibhuti Narayan Rai, a retired IPS officer, who was Superintendent of Police in the region at that time, and later wrote a book on the massacre. In the context of the Delhi High Court verdict, Rai has raised uncomfortable questions, as “a person who was witness to the gory incident”, regarding the mode of governance of our polity:

As Superintendent of Police, I vowed to take the assassins and perpetrators of this heinous crime to their logical destination...There are many open secrets, which were known to people in and around Meerut. Why was the investigation taken from me and handed over to the CID within 40 hours? Why were they allowed to make a mess of it? What about the mysterious army major who loitered around Hashimpura, where he was not supposed to be? What about the woman whose nephew was killed few hours before the victims were kidnapped in a PAC truck? 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? These issues keep me from enjoying this moment, one I was waiting for over all these 30 years...The judgment of the High Court may be some consolation but we must remember that in this case, all the stakeholders of the Indian state—the political leadership, bureaucracy, police, media and judiciary—initially failed. If we are really committed to keeping India a secular democracy, we will have to ensure that Hashimpura never happens again. (The Indian Express, November 3, 2018)

The role of the State in the investigation of the Hashimpura massacre has also been questioned in the recent judgement of the Delhi High Court. The text of the judgement noted: “How the State of UP managed to have the records of a pending criminal trial weeded out is indeed a mystery.” The two-justice Bench of the Court candidly recorded the limits of justice embedded in their verdict: “We are conscious that for the families of those killed, this is perhaps too little, too late. They have had to wait for 31 years for justice. The monetary compensation they have received cannot make up for the lives lost. This case points to the systemic failure that results, not infrequently, in a miscarriage of justice.”

The spectre of the Hashimpura massacre still haunts us, as violence against the Muslim community has become a harsh reality confronting us today.

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