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The horror haunts again

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In 1987, 42 muslims were massacred by UP cops. the families of those killed waited 28 years for justice to be delivered. Sadly, it was not to be as a trial court in delhi recently acquitted all 16 accused   

By Sutanu Guru

In 2002, India was awash with horror stories emerging from riots that ravaged Gujarat. But in Hashimpura, a sleepy hamlet in Meerut, Shakeela and Zaibun had other concerns. Both had been widowed during the notorious Maliana massacre in 1987 and 15 years later, in 2002, they were awaiting a Supreme Court decision regarding their quest for justice. However, it was not to be.
While communal riots have flared up in various parts of India time and again, justice for the relatives of the victims, quite like the Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar riots, is slow and tedious in coming. And as the trial court judgment on March 21 proved, justice delayed is justice denied. The case of these two widows demonstrates that. 
In 1987, Shakeela was 48 years, while Zaibun, 28, was expecting her first child. Meerut was in the throes of communal riots when armed cops belonging to the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) raided Hashimpura and picked up about 50 Muslim men and boys and drove them away in trucks. Subsequent reports revealed that they were taken near irrigation canals and shot dead. Among the 42 dead were the husbands of Shakeela and Zaibun.
In September 2002, the Supreme Court (SC) ordered that the trial against the PAC cops, which had started in a Ghaziabad court nine years after the massacre, be shifted to a special court in Delhi. There was a glimmer of hope for Shakeela and Zaibun. But reality set in as the trial meandered here too. All hopes for justice were finally crushed cruelly on March 21, 2015, when the Additional Sessions Judge Sanjay Jindal acquitted all the accused for want of evidence. 
judgeThe court agreed that the killing took place. But that was no consolation for the family members of those killed, who crawled through the maze of the Indian legal system for 28 years. 
In many ways, the Hashimpura case is a telling indictment of the judicial system in India and how the powerful can evade justice for decades. The wheels of justice have turned very slowly in this case. The massacre took place in 1987. The UP government ordered a CID enquiry in 1988. The report was submitted in 1994. A trial against 19 PAC cops started in a Ghaziabad court in 1996. Till 2000, 23 bailable and 14 non-bailable warrants were issued against the accused to appear before the court. But to no avail. Finally, the 19 surrendered, managed to get bail and went back to their jobs. 
In 2001, family members of the victims filed a petition in the SC and the case was transferred to special court in Delhi in September 2002. 
An RTI application filed in 2006 revealed that all the accused continued to be in service and none of them had any adverse remarks in their annual confidential reports. Some were even given promotions. Unfortunately, even in the special court, the case could not start because the UP government failed to appoint a special prosecutor till 2004. The trial eventually started in 2006, 19 years after the crime. By then, the main accused, Surinder Pal, who allegedly led the PAC cops during the massacre had passed away, as had a few of his colleagues. It was revealed during the early stages of the trial that the rifles allegedly used during the massacre were redistributed among PAC personnel.
However, scores of human rights activists and lawyers kept up the pressure, as did an intrepid cop called Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was SP of Meerut at that time. Often going against the system and many of his colleagues, Rai doggedly pursued the case even after retiring from service. He even wrote a book on the subject—Hashimpura: The Massacre Everyone Forgot—where he writes: “The story beyond this is a sordid saga of the relations between the Indian State and the minorities, the unprofessional attitude of police and a frustratingly sluggish judicial system. The offences I lodged…  met with many obstacles during the last 23 years and are still struggling in various courts to reach their logical conclusion.”
Then, there was a well-known lawyer from Meerut, Asim Ali Sabzwari, who studied the Meerut riots and compiled a 900-page report. Sabzwari says that he had to pay heavily for his professional honesty because the Meerut police started treating him as a gangster and he was even denied a passport. 
Special prosecutor, Satish Tamta, and family members of the 42 victims seemed confident that justice would finally be delivered because the evidence so painstakingly presented in front of the court appeared to be overwhelming. But that was not to be. 
There is palpable shock and anger in Hashimpura now. Incredibly, there still flickers some hope that an appeal in higher courts might help. Perhaps, it is the same kind of despair and hope that sustains widows of the 1984 Sikhs riots in Delhi.
It is obvious there is an urgent need to overhaul, revamp and reform the judicial system, so that people like Shakeela and Zaibun can still believe in it.  


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