The afternoon of the last day of October came as a pleasant surprise for people who have been fighting for justice for their near and dear ones in Hashmipura, Meerut’s macabre killings. Delhi High Court has done what several courts in the past failed to do, it finally provided some semblance of justice to people whose children, fathers, brothers and husbands were snatched away by heartless, rampaging thugs wearing UP’s Provincial Armed Constabulary uniform on 22 May 1987.
While the court didn’t send the accused to gallows, it at least ensured that the perpetrators of the most nefarious crime in the history of the Independent India by a law enforcing agency will spend their final days behind high prison walls.
At least 44 people –all young Muslim men - were abducted on the evening of 22 May 1987 from their houses, blindfolded and bundled into waiting PAC truck and taken to Hindon River where they were shot from point blank range. Four youths, who somehow survived the killings and escaped, brought the case before the world. Many of the youth, who were randomly abducted by the PAC personnel were as young as 15 or 16 year old. This author, met Usman, more than 15-years ago, while writing on the progress of the case. A young man at that time, he was abducted, shot from point blank range and left for dead.
The people impacted by the killings haven’t been able to come to terms with their lives despite the fact 31-long years have passed.
The state government enquiry found not 16 but at least 66 PAC personnel responsible for the heinous crime. Several years after the abduction and killing, when there was a groundswell of demand for justice, Uttar Pradesh Government ordered an inquiry into the ghastly incident by the CBCID. After detailed inquiry, 66-PAC personnel were found to be involved in the abduction and the killings. Several high ranking officials of the Provincial Armed Constabulary were found to be involved in the criminal act by the CBCID inquiry that submitted its final report in Feb. 1994.
When the CBCID report was submitted, the UP government refused to make the report public. Instead of taking action against the 66 PAC personnel, including senior officials of the paramilitary force, the government filed case against only 19 PAC men of lower rank in the Court of CIM Ghaziabad on 20 May 1996. CBCID on 13 March 1997, in Allahabad High Court admitted that ‘the remaining detenus were taken in the PAC truck URU 1493 to the Hindon Canal (Village Makanpur) and the Platoon commander and PAC men shot them dead’.
State patronage to the accused
How the law was trampled by the subsequent governments in the state is hard to fathom. The state government didn’t want any action taken against the accused, not just the high ranking officials, but even the lowly police men of the PAC in the case. From 1994 to the year 2000 the chief judicial magistrate (CJM), Ghaziabad, where the case was pending for several years, issued bailable warrants at least 23 times and non-bailable warrants 17 times against the convicts. Nonetheless, the policemen, very sure of the patronage and safety cover of the agency and the state government, never came to the court.
When 16 accused policemen of the PAC finally came to the court and surrendered at least 13 years after the dance macabre, they were released on bail. It is needless to say that the convicts enjoyed remained eservice and enjoyed every perk that came with the job.
Finally some justice
The judgment of the bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel comes as a great relief for the victims and their families. The High Court bench said that the killings was a sure case of "targeted killings of persons belonging to one minority community".
While delivering the judgment, the High Court bench said, "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 bench went on to add, “The present case involved the abduction of 42 to 45 persons belonging to the minority community and the 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 members of the minority community".
The Court further said, "The gravity of the crime is obvious. At the same time, the court is aware that this case has been pending for over three decades for reasons not entirely attributable to the accused. Their acquittal by the trial court 28 years after the event is reversed by this court, 31 years after the event. The present age of the accused persons has also therefore to be accounted for. The court also notes that substantial sums by way of compensation have been disbursed to the victims and their families".
Muslim leadership should also be blamed
Muslim leadership must also be blamed for the lack of justice in the case for so long. The leadership never really followed the case in the courts of law and left it for the poor residents of the by-lanes of Hashimpura to fight their case on their own. Without a doubt, these people, who were in a hopeless condition were left to fend for themselves. Had the Muslim leadership followed the case proactively, in different courts of law, the accused would have been in jail a long time ago.
An old and infirm corporator in Meerut Municipal Corporation, Muhammad Yameen, fought the cases with the support of some local philanthropists in different courts from Ghaziabad to High Court. He would have been happy to finally see the fruit of his hard work and some semblance of justice from Delhi High Court. He passed away a couple of years ago. Notwithstanding the fact he himself had lost a son in Meerut riots the same year, he harboured no ill-will for anyone and told this author he was fighting for justice merely for the sake of justice and compensation for the poor men and women who have nowhere to go and no one to seek help.
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