This is part I of a Vantage three-part series on the Hashimpura massacre and the continued delay of justice.
The political and social contract between the state and its citizens is largely founded on trust, or so we are often assured. Yet two recent events have revealed seemingly irreparable breaches in this contract that is meant to bind society together. The incidents in question may seem far removed from each other, geographically and socially, but they both accentuate an inherent and prevalent distrust of our country’s institutions. More importantly, an analysis of these events is useful in understanding some of the reasons that have led to this distrust.
The first incident is the recent acquittal of the men accused in the Hashimpura massacre. Spanning twenty-eight years, the Hashimpura trial—one of the longest in the country—ended last Saturday, 21 March 2015, when a Delhi court acquitted all the sixteen surviving men of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh who were responsible for the homicide of over forty Muslim men in Hashimpura, Meerut.
In April 1987, Meerut witnessed an outbreak of communal violence following the Rajiv Gandhi–led government’s decision to open the locks of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. After a brief respite, the riots reportedly gained steam once again in May that year, following which a curfew was imposed in the city. It was during this curfew that a PAC regiment landed in Hashimpura on the night of 22 May. Fifty Muslim men—most of them daily wage labourers and weavers—were bundled away by the PAC personnel into a truck and taken to the Upper Ganga Canal in Muradnagar, Ghaziabad, under the pretext of a search. Most of these men were shot at as soon as they got off, and their bodies were dumped into the canal, while some were taken ahead to the Hindol canal in Makanpur on the Delhi border and fired at there.
Soon, news of the Hashimpura massacre gained prominence, and reports of dead bodies found floating in the Hindol and the Upper Ganga canal triggered a massive public and media outcry. Till date, the exact number of murdered men remains unclear, although most reports testify to the identification of forty-two bodies. The Crime Branch- Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) of Uttar Pradesh which was investigating the massacre listed 161 people as witnesses.