“Searching for those who had survived among the blood-soaked bodies strewn around the canal and between ravines near Makhanpur village on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border in the pitch dark, on the night of 22 May, armed only with a dim torchlight, while ensuring that we didn’t trample upon the bodies-each scene still streams through my mind like a horror film. …… when I heard about the incident, at first, I could not believe it. It was not until I reached the Hindon canal in Makhanpur village, along with the district magistrate and other officials, that I realized had become a witness to secular India’s most shameful and horrendous incident.”
The author of the book vibhuti Narayan Rai, was my favorite columnist when we used to take “Hindustan dainik” and it was the editorial page of Hindustan, from where I first read about Hashimpura case through Rai’s column in that. And after 5 years I read his book on Hashimpura which was published in 2016 by penguin India and translated by Darshan Desai in English from Hindi.
The author of the book “Hashimpura 22 May: the forgotten story of India’s Biggest Custodial Killing”, Vibhuti Narayan Rai, an IPS tuned hindi writer, joined the Indian police service in 1975. He was posted as senior superintendent of police and inspector general of police in many communally sensitive areas of Uttar Pradesh, including Ghaziabad, where the Hashimpura Massacre occurred.
In this book, written down the story of Hashimpura massacre, which according to him is “a sordid saga of the relations between the Indian state and minorities, the amoral attitude of the police and frustratingly sluggish judicial system.….”.
A book of 9 chapters starts from the horrible depiction of the Hashimpura incident when author gets the news of massacre from a police officer and story moves when we read the actual detail of incident from the mouth of survivors Babudin, zulfikar, and it flows to the meetings of chief minister, bureaucrats when they heard about the incident and sat to chalk out the strategy to deal the repercussion of incident; and press conference of police and victim; author’s meeting with shabuddin who gave the shelter to zulfikar, one of the main survivors of hashimpura; efforts of police officers who tried to hushed up the case; the ignorance of newspapers who did not bother to publish the story of massacre; case transfer to CID and its loose investigation, and in the last chapters, author tries to find out why this incident occurred. What were the motives behind it? And what were those forces which let it happen?
“why the killers had gone to such an extent to carry out the gory killings. They put their rifles on the chest of unarmed, helpless youngsters and shot them, and, even after they fell to the ground, they kept pumping bullets into them to make sure that they were dead. All this without even knowing them, without any personal enmity!”
WHAT IS HASHIMPURA MASSACRE?
This book is the best and authentic source to know the massacre in detail. It was the time of May 1987, Meerut was under curfew due to riots and effect of these riots was also on the neighbouring districts of Meerut and Ghaziabad was especially on the verge of exploding.
During this time, the country was a communal cauldron in the wake of Ram Janm bhoomi agitation. Communal tension was so high that even the police personnel, who are, after all, just the people of society, can be affected by it.
“In such difficult times, only a few can retain their objectivity. And this is not true only of the media but also of the academia, judiciary, bureaucracy, corporate sector, et al.”
Author recalls some tragic incidents before massacre when Muslims became the target of this communal hatred that how stenographer’s family of the then SSP of Meerut continuously taunted by the PAC and one night, out of the fear of killing by PAC they ran to SSP’s house for help.
Another were the instances when some Muslim prisoners who were taken to fatehgarh jail from Meerut, were killed inside the jail by other prisoners and the wardens. And the Muslim constable, iftekhar ahmed of the 41st Battalion, PAC, who was attacked by his fellows when he was trying to stop PAC from ill-treating the Muslims.
The gravity of hatred at that time can be understood by the above incidents. The relations between Hindu and Muslims during the Ram janmbhoomi movement was at its worst phase post-independence. And these factors resulted in the ‘India’s Biggest Custodial Killing’.
It was the month of Ramzan when twelve to fourteen PAC person reached Hashimpura at 6:00 pm. They squatted 400 to 500 people and divided them in two groups. One group was of the old and children and the second group was of the young and strong persons.
“Bubudin told us that during the routine searches, a PAC truck picked us forty to fifty people and drove them away.”
PAC truck picked that second group of forty to fifty people and drove them away near gang canal, PAC man opened the back shutter of the truck and asked those people to jump out, when one of them came out, that PAC person fired at him and flung his body to canal.
“they were asked to step out at the first canal and the PAC men started shooting them, one after the other…”
“The jawans standing outside ordered their colleague inside the truck to catch the “circumcised” by the collar and throw those out hesitating to jump.”
This was done to more than half number of people but this bloody game disturbed when milk van came there and flashed van light on the truck. With left out people in the truck, PAC men drove the truck in hurry and went near the makhanpur canal. This time also they asked those left out people to hop out but when nobody did, PAC men throw them from the truck and again same happened to those people also, PAC men shot them and flung their bodies to canal. When they completed their deadly task they went to their PAC headquarter and cleaned the truck.
This was just a very little brief of these two killings at one night, exact depiction of these killings which wrote down by author in the book is horrible that can shock any sensible person to the core.
“there were bodies lying in the bushes, on the canal banks and floating in the water as well. The blood was still oozing out of the bodies and was slowly seeping into the ground”.
“some hanging precariously from the canal embankments, some partly in the water, some partly outside and some floating in the water.”
After these two massacres, when author with the DM and other police officer reached second spot Makhanpur canal, they found one survivor, babudin who told them the tale of that bloody horrific night, and the story of first killing, that how PAC reached hashimpura and how they were shot down by them at two places. From that first spot, police found two persons who were not died and three other persons also escaped from the first spot who were trying to be completely dead when PAC was there and when PAC men left out they escaped from there with their wounded, exhausted and hungry-thirsty bodies because those were the days of ramzan and they even could not break their fast. Among three of those persons, one person died because he was too wounded to be survived, one person ran who never found out, a person zulfikar ali, a survivor whose surviving story is too heart-breaking and terrific to read, survived after too much struggle. And at last, he got the shelter of syed shabuddin, the then Congress leader and popular Muslim leader, he arranged the press conference where zulfikar ali told about the massacre to the media persons and even showed his wounds. But there was nothing in the newspapers the next day. In answer to zulfikar’s press conference, police officer of Ghaziabad also held press conference and denied all allegations of zulfikar, they even told that there was no person of zulfikar’s name at hashimpura. These were those officers who were presented in meerut circuit house when author told about the massacre to chief minister veer bhadur singh.
“According to them, not a single person from hashimpura had reported to the police that their family members were missing, while the truth was that despite the curfew, many hashimpura residents ran from one police post to another inquiring about their kith and kin.”
After that time, Author did efforts to give the story to a newspaper, so that people know about the incident and this massacre could not be buried down under the dust of time. but his efforts could not be successful, author suspect that this could be done either the editor of the newspaper was not intended to publish the news or there were some strong political forces who stopped the newspaper to publish that story. Later on, author gave that story to a weekly newspaper who published the story with great efforts. This chapter of author’s efforts to publish the story of newspaper told us many things about the actual condition of “free and unbiased press”.
This massacre was the biggest custodial killing, which occurred near Delhi during the time of riot, according to author, all efforts were made to hide this massacre, and even it was suggested to let kill the survivors who were at police station and in the hospital. Government and police did not attempt to arrest those PAC and why they did so? Author assumes that may be because they were also under the influence of communal hatred of that time or they had the fear of PAC revolt as was done in 1973 PAC mutiny. They arrested them when it became too late and evidence were washed off.
This was also the reason that during the proceeding of the case in the court, there was no strong evidence to show the court and that’s why court did not have the option except to acquit the accused. After 28 years of the massacre (22 may 1987 and 21 March 2015), all accused were acquitted, some were died. Victims’ families had nothing except consolation.
“this is the biggest instance of the Indian judiciary system’s helplessness-that despite all efforts and summons, the administration could not get him to present himself before the court.”
In the acquittal of convicts, CID also played an important role. This case was transferred to CID for investigation. Author told his experience that at the time, CID just became the tool to save the powerful criminals. CID did not put efforts into the investigation, author claim that CID was working as the counsel of accused.
At last, the main and most important question arises, why those PAC men who never met with the victims before the incident, can kill some innocent person in cold blood without a little bit of humanity.
“what was the motive in this case? In Hashimpura, the killers and the victims did not even know each other, neither friends not as enemies.”
Author search the answer of this question in the last chapters of the book. According to author’s research of CID documents, CID suspected that this massacre could be the result of the murder of prabhat kumar, which was occurred on 21 May, a day before the 22 May. Who was the nephew of a BJP leader and the brother of a police officer and that police officer was present at hashimpura when PAC loaded the people in that truck. However, CID could not find the murderer but it was suspected that any Muslim shot him. And maybe this massacre was done to “show their place” to Muslims. One suspicion was also on the then chief minister vir bhadur singh but author denies it. And it is better to read the book to know the reason of author’s denial.
Author try to search the answer in the history of communal violence between the hindu and muslim from British era. Author had worked on communal relation during his fellowship and in this book he gave an effective details of development of communal hatred.
This book is the true memoir of the hashimpura incident. Author put his every effort to present the deadly story before the new generation like us who would have not been know about the massacre if they didn’t read the story.
The face expression of chief minister when he heard the news of massacre, the episode of news publishing, author’s meeting with syed shabuddin, surendra pal sing, zulfikar ali, v.k.b. nair, the depiction of the incident, ghazibad riots, how CID just lost the case, there are many episodes in the book which are so effective and give us the actual activities of our system behind the veil.
It will be a good idea to end this article with the words of the author,
“it is unfortunate and saddening that till date the Indian state has not taken the biggest and the most heinous act of custodial massacre after independence as a challenge. This was one case where all the stakeholders of the Indian state- political leadership, bureaucracy, the police, media and the courts- have collectively failed and proved to be completely spineless. And incredibly helpless. This should have been as a danger to the secular character of Indian democracy as enshrined in our constitution. But this had not happened.”
This article is written by Advocate A.H. Gnagohi.