Hashimpura massacre verdict

Kashmir Times. Dated: 11/6/2018 12:19:57 AM

Justice finally but too many delays and many cases of hate inspired massacres still pending

Delhi High Court overturning the trial court's verdict in the Hashimpura massacre and sentencing the acquitted 16 former police personnel to life for targeted killing of 42 unarmed people of a minority community in Meerut in 1987 renews some optimism in the country's legal justice system with respect to communal violence, many cases of which continue to linger in courts endlessly. This is a rare case of mass killings based on hatred and prejudice that has resulted in conviction. There are many more such cases pending including Gujarat carnage of 2002, where the needle of suspicion points to the pro-active role of none other than the present prime minister of the country, and 1984 anti-Sikh riots in which senior Congress leaders are among the prime accused. Though the difficulty of cases like these latter two where the accused include some of the most hi-profiled politically influential powerful elite cannot be overlooked in view of the probability of state machineries using all their power to suppress evidence, the Hashimpura verdict renews the hopes of the country in delivering justice. Though as the court verdict stated, "the compensation paid and conviction after 31 years is still a miscarriage of justice for the victims", the long delay in nailing the guilty makes the process of justice difficult in view of the evidence and testimonies that are lost coupled with the existing biases and prejudices for the last three decades. It took seven years for the Uttar Pradesh government to complete its investigation, and another two years for the state to file a charge sheet against the 19 accused policemen in a local court in Ghaziabad, where the case was stuck until 2002, when the Supreme Court moved it to New Delhi. It took another 15 years for the trial court in Delhi to acknowledge that 42 Muslim men were indeed executed, but acquitted the 16 surviving policemen even though one of the miraculous survivors of the gory incident had given testimonies before the court about the exact sequence of events which corroborated with the statements of the accused. On May 22, 1987, the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary rounded up 42 Muslim men from Hashimpura in Meerut, put them in a truck, drove them to a canal in Ghaziabad and shot them dead.
The Hashimpura verdict needs to now form the basis of re-investigation with all fairness in similar cases of mass killings and the ones in the conflict areas need to be also brought into the ambit. Such massacres point out to not just the prevalence of xenophobic killings but also the evident patronage of the people at the helm of affairs, if not in pre-meditating and planning such carnages, atleast so in shielding the culprits after these have been executed. Even in the Hashimpura case, the likelihood of this being planned at a much higher level by officers, who have obviously escaped the noose, cannot be ruled out. A crime of this magnitude is less likely to have taken place without the tacit patronage from the top and definitely, justice would not have taken three decades to be delivered, if there were no attempts to shield the culprits for so long. Such delays are a shocking reminder of how political and state power forges a formidable alliance to perpetuate crimes and shield the guilty, and of the inherent biases with which state's institutions are conditioned. The genesis of this policy can be easily traced to the bloody partition of 1947. So much on pins was the leadership of the country to move on that it began to normalize the most violent period of Indian history as an unavoidable consequence of religion based partition, to the extent that no attempt was ever made to investigate the violent upheaval and the vast multitude of injustices perpetrated then. The silence then has become a legitimate norm decades later. That folly has allowed the state's institutions to be conditioned by both prejudices and complacency in investigating each communally inspired massacre and carnage that followed, whether it was perpetrated at the behest of political groups or by the state's own agencies. To alter this mindset, it is important to go back to 1947 and begin talking about and documenting with due diligence and without any prejudices the incidents that happened back then. While that is a long, tedious and difficult project, the state's legal justice institutions need to be fully geared up to withstand all kinds of political and official pressures and dispense justice in all the pending cases of similar nature.

 

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