Miscarriage of Justice in Hashimpura
One of the most famous lines on the official All India Radio news bulletins during communal disturbances used to be ‘ Sthiti tanavpurn lekin Niyantran me hai’ ( the situation is tense but under control) and police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in the ‘sensitive’ areas. It was well known to us as what is ‘samvdansheel kshetra’ or sensitive areas. Most of these ‘sensitive areas’ were the Muslim localities in the walled cities, almost ghettoised in the aftermath of each ‘riots’ much to the comfort of the fanatics on both the sides who wanted to see such polarisation to happen. The ‘sensitive areas’ terminology reflected the mindset of administration, police and the media in the independent India where Muslims are treated as ‘problem-makers’ and ‘obstacles’. During the ‘communal disturbances,’ the police ‘round off’ these ‘problem-makers’ and ‘obstacles’ as routine exercise to bring ‘peace’. Once when I questioned these things during a visit in the early 1990s, to Meerut on a fact finding mission, a very senior Professor in the Meerut University blamed me promote ‘Pakistanis’ in India and warned me from staying away from mini ‘Pakistan’ which was the walled city of Meerut. His argument was that Muslims are criminals and that is why they are largest in the Indian jails. I liked him because this professor did not have hypocrisy and he spoke from his ‘heart’ which is a reality of the middle classes upper caste Hindus in India at least at the moment.
The release of 16 accused policemen of the Provincial Arms Constabulary
( PAC) in the Hashimpura violence case by a Delhi Court has brought back the issue of Communal Violence Bill that was being drafted in the UPA regime but because of the lack of a will, could not be passed. Hashimpura is not the first and the last case of judicial failure even when several years back Supreme Court itself had expressed pain and anguish in delays of the trial and Allahabad High Court’s judge Justice termed the act of PAC as ‘criminals in uniforms’
Reports after reports suggested how PAC goons arrested innocent Muslims and later picked young boys to be killed later on with their bodies floated in the Canal near Muradnagar. Haven’t we seen pictures of gun trotting policemen in the Muslim localities herding together men, young boys and children and threatening to push the trigger if they protest? Riots after riots such scenes are often repeated and the police go unpunished. They have protections and the atmosphere in all the towns and cities where Muslims presence is nearly 30% is polarized.
When the state has abdicated its responsibility in such a way that justice is not just denied but miscarried than it is time to think seriously as what ails the system. Before we come to analyse the entire incident, let us not forget that People’s Union for Civil Liberties had brought out a detailed report on the Hashimpura massacre in 1987 in which it had put serious doubts on the administration. The PUCL team which went on fact finding mission to Hashimpura and other areas included Justice Rajinder Sachar, Mr Inder Kumar Gujral, Prof A.M.Khusrau, Prof Dilip Swamy and others hence it is important for us to understand what they said on this as the court of law has found no evidence though following report is filed not only by eminent persons but one of them was a former chief justice of Delhi High Court.
‘One of the most shameful chapters of human callousness was enacted in Hashimpura area. It would appear by then that sufficient contingents of police and PAC had been inducted into Meerut. It was not clear but it seems that some decision was taken to really spread terror in Hashimpura area. Pursuant to this on May 22 Hashimpura was surrounded by the PAC. The PAC then forced all residents out of their houses to the main Road. Then a house to house search was conducted. The residents complained that several houses were looted by the PAC.
All residents of Hashimpura were lined up on the main road segregated, and one person in Burkha identified 42 young men, who were asked to board a police lorry. Another group of 324 were arrested and taken by other police vehicles.
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 grand father 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.’
(Excerpts of the PUCL report on Hashimpura published in PUCL Bulletin)
The Delhi Court where the case had come for hearing actually released all the ‘accused’ in the absence of ‘eye witnesses’ and their identifications by the ‘victims’. The problem is how are the victims of mass violence, mass rapes and social ostracisation going to identify people in the court where the agencies supposed to protect people have been charged with conniving and protecting the miscreants. This is not the first case of its kind where the callousness of the courts have released the accused but it also reflect the political scenario of the country and how the judicial system is being influenced. You do not need to be a law ‘expert’ to understand the whole issue and how it has been handled. If a scrutiny of judgments on mass killings or communal riots is done, judiciary in India would disappointment you. I have not heard a single case where communal or caste violence culprits have been sentenced or their political future is at peril. Nelli in Assam in 1983, Bhagalpur in Bihar, Meerut, in 1987 in Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai in 1992-1993, Gujarat in 2002, Delhi in 1984, Mujaffarnagar in 2013 have never reached to any conclusion. Yes, those instigated violence and polarized the voters got to power. In the ‘First Past The Post’ system, the biggest danger is of inciting hatred towards minorities for political gains and parties and leaders succeeded in it. That is why there is much bigger danger of such experiments. In 1984 the polarization helped Congress Party to win an election with massive mandate while after 2002, Narendra Modi continued with his winning spree in Gujarat. Once political parties understand that such polarization help they would continue with this. The state level experiences of extremist stand helped political parties to gain power everywhere including BJP in UP, Shiv Sena in Gujarat too. In fact, the success of the experiments forced the Hindutva ‘programmers’ to go for it on a bigger level before the general elections last year and Mujaffarnagar was actually part of that ‘programme’.
Many things emerges out of these criminal acquittals and that happen because of political environment of the country and none can say that judiciary is not influenced from it particularly at the lower level. Have we not seen acquittal of all the accused in the Gujarat violence in 2002 particularly those who were in ‘responsible’ positions. Right from Best Bakery to Hashimpura, it is the people who are seeking justice are being penalized. The case of Teesta Setalwad is exactly the same that those who fight for the right of the people and take on the state will face prosecutions. During emergency, we could trust a few in the media but today it is becoming difficult as media has become bigger propaganda machinery of the political elites of the country.
It is not for nothing that this year we have seen release of all the accused in Shankarbigaha massacre of Dalits. Later, in Lakshmanpurbathe, Bathani Tola,and Tsundur accused too got honorably relieved by various courts. Practically, no case of communal violence or mass murders of Dalits, Muslims or Christians have reached to any logical conclusion. Most of the time the courts have ‘blamed’ it on to the investigating agencies for failure of providing the ‘eye witnesses’. It is another matter that the same courts have released honourably the other accused CBI had chargesheeted in some of these cases.
It is not for nothing that hate-mongers are roaming free and taking law in their hands. The threat of law is actually being applied on those who can’t really afford to have an efficient lawyer. India is fast moving towards a class consciousness hence even the human rights defenders who have a ‘background’ would be able to save themselves but not everyone is a Teesta or a Green Peace activist who can afford to hire best legal brains and organisations to defend them. Most of the cases where state is needed to be proactive actually end up in miscarriage of cases because of the official antipathy towards the people of particular castes or religion. Definitely, the bureaucratic and administrative prejudices against Muslims in Indian system are currently at the peak level and need serious relook by the government and judiciary.
The demand that Muslims and other marginalized segments of society must have fair representations at all level in our bureaucracy, military and police essentially comes in the backdrop of such happenings and need serious look. These demands are opposed by the Hindutva and other right wing groups under the pretext that demanding reservation for Muslims is a communal demand and will divide the nation. One does not know why a citizen of this country could be deprived of a genuine demand which will have far reaching impacts on the working of the police and administration.
As long as we do not have a mechanism to fix accountability of the officials engaged in the districts or cities during the ‘so-called’ communal ‘riots’ things will not move on. A senior officer once wrote that any communal disturbance can easily be controlled by the administration in first 12 hours and if violence continue even after that it must be assumed that ‘authorities’ and ‘politicians’ are hand in glove with the rioters. How can ‘pogroms’ be called as ‘riots’ where police and administration has to be impartial?
You do not need to imagine too much of what happens during these ‘riots’ as pictures speaks for them. The horrific pictures of Hashimpura which have been published by Indian Express yesterday show how the people have been asked by the gun trotting policemen holding their hands up in the sky in the form of surrender. Haven’t we seen how a poor grim faced Muslim tailor in Ahmedabad was seeking protection with folded hand from the authorities ? The tales are endless and people have been left to fetch themselves. In fact, those few who try to fight for them also end up in becoming victim. Daily stories of pains, sorrows and betrayal lead us to further depression.
It is these things which make people vary of even the human rights defenders. What is in their hand? After all, we can only express our solidarity and share their concern and be part of the struggle. Result is not in our hand but then these assurances or uncertainties do not bother the people who are victims as they want results so that they can lead normal life. Such a feeling is detrimental to the struggle of human rights and justice and used very well by those who violate them. In the past few years we have seen the differences is being made between the victim of Delhi’s violence in 1984 and Gujarat 2002 ignoring the fact that in both the cases Indian state failed to protect its citizens.
Rajiv Gandhi government at centre and Vir Bahadur Singh at the state actually took a lesson from 1984 when they tried to use state machinery towards majority communalism. The PAC has become notorious in Uttar Pradesh and no government has so far dared to either disband it or change its colour. Hashimpura’s case is clear how administration when communalized feel Muslims as ‘troublemakers’ and need to be ‘taught’ a lesson. And the administration and police do not become communalized suddenly but through a process. Over these years, Congress Party did not really try honestly to inculcate a secular spirit in the country and internally promoted this soft Hindutva approach in the party. 1984 was the worst period for Congress. It was the defeat of what Nehru had thought of Congress, a secular socialist party inclusive for all. The attempt to ‘teach’ minorities a lesson and a feeling as if they are trouble makers ultimately helped gain ground for the Sangh Parivar. That was the period of opening of lock of Babari Masjid by a man called Arun Nehru.
Congress of 2004 and 2012 therefore was much different than 1984 when it was arrogant in Brahmanical wisdom appeasing the caste Hindus and targeting minorities for political gains. The phenomena continue to grow albeit the beneficiary of the phenomena today is not Congress but the Hindutva party.
The UPA government last time made loud noises in bringing Communal Violence Bill but did not have the courage to bring it like it did to other bills. A broad and inclusive communal violence bill is needed which include the caste related violence too. The government must decide on it otherwise the alienation of minorities will prove too dangerous as sooner in the absence of justice as well as leadership there is a danger of growth of fringe elements. Muslims are facing it valiantly even when most of the political parties have used their vulnerabilities both in the name of secularism and Hindutva. As a citizen of India, they deserve all rights as anybody else have and need justice and protection. It is shame that a community which has given so much to India’s culture and heritage today feeling dejected, isolated and left out. These are no good sign for ‘AccheDin’ as all Indian citizens irrespective of their caste, class, religion and region deserve state protection and ‘AccheDin’.
Hashimpura reminds that the state of India has neglected Dalits and minorities in absolute terms. While we can understand that court’s procedures are delayed. We do understand that there is a problem in identifying the witnesses but one thing is clear and unambiguous which is that 42 citizens of this country were killed on 22nd May 1987 in the police custody. There is no denial of fact that Muslims of Maliana and Hashimpura were at the receiving end. Many lost their parents, their father, husbands and sons. I have only one question. How many of the political leaders visited them ? What was the compensation package ? Why has it not been done ? Why doesn’t the government take the responsibility to honorably rebuild their lives ? Who stops them but then political class use vulnerabilities to be charged as ‘appeasing’ the Muslims. Is denial of justice an appeasement of Muslims ? When we know who have done it then where is the problem ?
But the governments which live on police, use them as a tool for their own purposes, will never have the courage to act against them. That is the reality of Hashimpura and elsewhere. In no communal caste conflict have we reached any conclusion because their deaths and killings have become the biggest issue to polarize the atmosphere. This country can fear justice to polarization. It does not bother that two communities are being dragged in politics and that one is not getting justice. It is most unfortunately that after 1989, Uttar Pradesh did not see any Congress governments but that of socialists, Bahujans, Hindutva and every other shade but none of them bothered to visit these people, meet them and share their agony and pains. We can blame Congress for all its sins but what about those who claims to be ‘bigger’ ‘seculars’ than Congress party ?
It is therefore essential that Muslim use all the legal tools and also question political parties on these counts. They cannot take them for granted. It is time, Indian state show sign of accountability to Muslims and not push them to wall to go and approach international courts of justice. We hope Supreme Court will be keeping an eye on it and we need special courts under monitoring of Supreme Court to have day to day hearing on these issues. Unless justice is provided to people of Hashimpura and many others like them, such acquittals will remain dark chapters of Indian judiciary.