Debating India

UTTAR PRADESH

Justice out of sight

Tuesday 7 June 2005, by NARRAIN*Siddharth

Trial in the Hashimpura massacre case, in which personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary in Uttar Pradesh allegedly shot dead 42 Muslims in May 1987, is yet to begin in earnest.

EIGHTEEN years after the Hashimpura massacre in Uttar Pradesh, in which members of the State Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) allegedly shot dead 42 Muslim men, no charge has been framed in the criminal trial. Even after the case was transferred from the Ghaziabad court to Tis Hazari on the orders of the Supreme Court, the Uttar Pradesh government has shown little interest in pursuing the prosecution of the 19 accused police personnel.

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S. ARNEJA
During the communal violence in Meerut in May 1987.

The Hashimpura massacre occurred during the communal riots that broke out in Meerut in May 1987 (Cover Story, Frontline, May 30-June 12, 1987). Apparently, the immediate provocation was the Rajiv Gandhi-led Central government’s decision to open the Babri Masjid for worship by Hindus. In April several areas of Meerut city were affected by communal violence during the Muslim festival of Shab-e-Barat. But the Congress government in U.P., headed by Vir Bahadur Singh, withdrew the security forces soon after the violence subsided. Meerut exploded again, and the State government was caught unawares. Thousands of people, incited by inflammatory speeches and slogans broadcast over the public address system, barricaded the national highway and burnt factories, shops, houses, vehicles and petrol pumps. The scale of the riots can be imagined from the fact that 50 gazetted police officers and more than 60 companies of the PAC, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and later, the Army, had to be pressed into service.

Curfew was imposed and PAC personnel conducted searches in several Muslim localities in the city. On May 22, 1987, they booked hundreds of Muslim youth from Hashimpura, though there was no rioting in that area of Meerut city. Nineteen PAC personnel, under platoon commander Surinder Pal Singh, allegedly took about 50 of them, most of them daily wage labourers and poor weavers, in a van from Hashimpura Mohalla in Meerut to the Upper Ganga canal in Murad Nagar, Ghaziabad, instead of taking them to the police station. They then shot some of them, one by one, and threw them into the canal. A bullet injured one of the PAC constables. Four of those shot escaped and one of them filed a first information report (FIR) at the Murad Nagar Police Station. The remaining men were taken in the truck to the Hindon Canal in Makanpur and shot. Two of the persons who were shot survived and lodged an FIR at the Link Road Police Station.

The horrific incident outraged sections of the media and minority rights organisations. The State government announced a compensation of Rs.20,000 for the victims. The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking more compensation and an inquiry into the incident. The Supreme Court directed the State government to pay an additional compensation of Rs.20,000 to each of the families of the victims. In 1988, the State government ordered an inquiry by the Crime Branch Central Investigation Department (CBCID). The CBCID’s report, submitted to the State government in 1994, was never made public. In 1995, some of the victims moved the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court to make the report public and to prosecute those indicted in it. The petition sought an increase in the compensation amount to Rs.1 lakh. The petition is pending before the High Court. The CBCID, in its affidavit, has detailed the findings of its investigation, describing the events that led to the deaths.

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S. ARNEJA
Hindon Canal, where bodies of the men killed allegedly by PAC personnel were found.

During the CBCID inquiry, Sub-Inspector Virendra Singh, who was in charge of the Link Road Police Station, said that when he received information about what had happened he set off towards the Hindon Canal. On his way, he saw a PAC truck heading back from the place where the incident occurred. He then tried chasing the truck and saw it enter 41st Vahini, a camp of the PAC. The gatekeeper on night duty stopped it. Soon, Vibhuti Narain Rai, Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, and Naseem Zaidi, District Magistrate, Ghaziabad, reached 41st Vahini. They tried getting the truck traced through senior PAC officers, but to no avail.

The CBCID identified 13 of the 16 bodies recovered from the Hindon Canal and filed the charge-sheet against 19 of the PAC personnel under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Since most of the accused were public servants, the State government’s sanction under Section 197 was needed to prosecute them. The policemen were accused of murder, attempt to murder and destruction of evidence. The charge-sheet was filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Ghaziabad. (Framing of charges is a step in the subsequent stage, in which the accused are intimated about the nature of the accusation.)

The CJM issued warrants to the accused policemen asking them to appear before the court. When the accused did not appear before the court, bailable warrants were issued six times between January 1997 and February 1998. Later non-bailable warrants were issued 17 times between April 1998 and April 2000. But the accused evaded the summons.

The Minorities Council of India, an Aligarh-based organisation, then stepped in and made a representation to the National Commission for Minorities. Finally, as a consequence of public pressure, 16 of the 19 accused surrendered in groups in May 2000, 13 years after the incident. Although their bail applications were initially rejected by the CJM, the accused managed to obtain bail from the court of the District Judge, Ghaziabad. While granting bail, the Judge said that since the accused were members of the PAC, there was no chance of them absconding. Since then, the case has been repeatedly delayed. The case was committed for trial to the District and Sessions Judge, who transferred the case to the Additional District Sessions Judge-IV, Ghaziabad. In 2001, the victims filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for the case to be transferred from Ghaziabad to New Delhi as the conditions there would be more conducive to the trial. The Supreme Court transferred the case to Tis Hazari in New Delhi. But the case was still to be argued by a Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) appointed by the U.P. government.

When the case was finally fixed for arguments on charge, there was no such SPP. In February 2004, the court issued notice to the Director-General of Police (DGP) and the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh to appear in person. When the government did appoint an SPP, the victims were not happy because they felt he was not qualified enough. He was removed after they complained. In November 2004, the government appointed Surinder Adlakha SPP, but he is yet to start the arguments on charge. Said Mohammad Yamin, ex-counsellor and social worker: "This case is about the first instance in which those who were appointed to keep the peace carried out attacks in cold blood. Yet, the Uttar Pradesh government has delayed the matter." One of the lawyers representing the Hashimpura complainants, Vrinda Grover, feels that the victims have the right to be consulted before the SPP is appointed.

Meanwhile, one of the accused has died and the case before R.K. Jain, Additional District and Sessions Judge, Tis Hazari, was delayed because another accused was in jail in Varanasi for allegedly murdering four persons, including three PAC personnel, in Azamgarh. The lawyers appointed by the court to assist the SPP feel that the State police did not investigate the case properly and that the Sub-Inspector in charge of the Link Road Police Station should have collected more evidence from the scene of the incident. Said Rebecca John, a counsel for the Hashimpura complainants: "We are looking at the possibility of arguing that the deaths amounted to custodial deaths since they occurred when the victims were in the custody of the PAC. If the court accepts the argument that these were custody deaths, the onus will shift to the accused to prove that they are not guilty."

The Hashimpura massacre proves how difficult it is to prosecute police personnel accused of communal crimes. According to Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was the Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, when the massacre took place, most of the police personnel posted in Meerut thought the riots were a result of Muslim mischief. They believed that Meerut had become a "mini-Pakistan" because of "Muslim intransigence" and that it was necessary to teach the community a lesson. This bias is only exacerbated by the State’s reluctance to prosecute police personnel as seen in the Hashimpura trial.

Vibhuti Narain Rai, who is currently the Additional Director-General of Police (Railways), Allahabad, said: "The fight against communalisation requires drastic changes in the policy of recruitment, training and syllabi of the police. The percentage of minorities, especially Muslims, is only 5 to 6 per cent in most States. I can say from 30 years of experience in the Police Department that this is the result of a deep and inherent communal bias in the leadership of the police. There are hundreds of government directives to recruit minorities into the department, but these are often flouted. Unless we reserve some seats for minorities, their quota will never be filled."

The Hashimpura massacre also highlights the need to scrutinise the role of public prosecutors who, in many trials related to communal crimes, including the Gujarat anti-minority pogrom, have helped the State to protect the accused.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 22 - Issue 12, Jun 04 - 17, 2005

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