30 Years After Hashimpura Massacre, Families Still Burn with Grief

Thirty years after the Hashimpura massacre, Muslim families who lost family members still struggle with their past.

Updated
India
5 min read


Jaffer with a picture of his sons, Mehtab on the right. (Photo Courtesy: Mahtab Alam)

On Friday, three days before the 30th anniversary of the Hashimpura massacre, I found myself walking along the locality with two other journalist friends to meet the survivors and family members of those who were brutally murdered. It was on 22 May 1987 that 42 unarmed Muslim young men were killed in cold blood, allegedly by the Uttar Pradesh Armed Constabulary (PAC), while a dozen others were brutally tortured and put in jail.

Every family of this Muslim concentrated mohalla of around 200 houses situated on Hapur road in Meerut City of Uttar Pradesh has a story to tell. The grisly stories of terror and injustice.

Of unmatched violence and dejection at the hands of the police machinery. Everyone over the age of 40 has some memory of what is rightly described as “India’s biggest communal custodial killing.”

The Parents Who Lost Their Sons

Our first encounter in the mohalla was with two women, Zareena and Hajra, both in their mid-seventies. Hajra had lost her young son while Zareena’s husband and son were killed in the massacre. Anger permeated their voices, directed at the injustice delivered through the wheels of justice decades later.



Zareena and Hajra holding pictures of their family members killed in the massacre. (Photo Courtesy: Mahtab Alam)
Zareena and Hajra holding pictures of their family members killed in the massacre. (Photo Courtesy: Mahtab Alam)

Mere compensation would in no way make up for what had happened; the accused had to be punished for their acts of violence, they felt. By the time we finished talking to these women, it was time for Friday prayers. We headed towards the mosque after having a quick brunch at a nearby hotel. We were informed that this mosque had also been attacked during the period of trouble.

It was in the mosque that my fellow journalist met an old man whose son had been killed in the massacre and who was my namesake! He passed on this information quickly, asking me whether I would like to meet him. While I was eager to meet the old man, I must confess that I was also apprehensive of the emotions it might bring in him and wanted to move away from the dilemma I found myself in. But I finally decided to meet him.

‘He Crouched in Hiding Till the Following Morning’

After the Friday prayers were over, we waited outside for him. After almost 15 minutes, my friend pointed towards an old man who looked like he had just crossed his eighties. He could barely walk without support and I offered to lend him a shoulder, while introducing myself and we then walked towards his house.

To my surprise, the old man, whose name was Jaffer Saifi, came across as very calm and congenial. There wasn’t any trace of agitation nor anger on his face when I introduced myself to him. He was anything but angry at our request to explain how the events had transpired on that fateful day. He smiled as he recounted, which was quite unlike what I had expected from someone who had lost so much.

Him and his two sons were rounded up by the PAC to accompany the others who had been similarly pulled out hours after the Friday prayers on the fateful day. While Jaffer’s eldest son, Yaqoob, was fortunate to have been whisked away to the police line and eventually the jail, his youngest son, Mehtab, was shot dead in cold blood later that night with the others along the gang canal. Jaffer had somehow managed to escape from the security forces and hid himself in a nearby saw machine in the mohalla.



Jaffer with a picture of his sons, Mehtab on the right. (Photo Courtesy: Mahtab Alam)
Jaffer with a picture of his sons, Mehtab on the right. (Photo Courtesy: Mahtab Alam)

He crouched in hiding till the morning of the following day when he finally decided to come out and run to his house. To his relief, a week later, his eldest son was found with others in jail.

He Smiled While Recounting the Ordeal

While recounting his ordeal, Jaffer maintained a big smile on his face, which I found quite weird and unsettling. It was then that his neighbour, Nawab Qureshi, interjected saying that he (Jaffer) might appear to be cheerful but deep within, his heart was in tears. While saying this, Qureshi broke out in silent sobs. The irony was quite painful for me to absorb and I looked away.

Jaffer continued that Yaqoob was to be released along with others after a few days, having had to spend Eid inside the prison barracks. There was still no news of his missing son, though they were aware that 42 of them had been shot dead in cold blood. It was only after a few days of tense inquiries that he realised that Mehtab, whom Jaffer fondly remembers as a khubsoorat aur nek beta (beautiful and pious son) too had been shot dead.

There was disbelief when this news was disclosed to the family. Yet, the family stood strong in their hope of seeing him again, as his body had not been traced among those who had been killed.

Poverty and Hardship in the Massacre’s Wake

It took them years before they could finally stand on their feet again. Jaffer, who had a rented tailoring shop in the city, had to look for work elsewhere as the shop had been burnt beyond repair. Poverty descended and forced him to work for others, sewing clothes for the orders that they received.

Yaqoob, who would work in his father’s shop, now helped him by taking small tailoring jobs in some shops in the city. Newly married, Yaqoob’s wife and children didn’t have it easy either and would work to buttress the daily earnings, apart from continuing their education.

What looked like an insurmountable end was buried under years of hard work and sacrifices, amidst the emotional turmoil of not finding Mehtab’s body. While Jaffer was finally able to gather resources to build his shop again and Yaqoob’s (four) children are now comfortably settled as a fashion designer, a lab technician, an auto parts designer and studying to be an accountant, the past continues to haunt them as memories of Mehtab resurface occasionally.

I could not help but notice the coincidence in our names, as also the painful memories that were attached to it as we bid farewell and made our way back to the city of Delhi.

(Mahtab Alam is an activist-turned-journalist and writer. He writes on issues related to politics, law, literature, human rights and tweets @MahtabNama. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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