On Wednesday, 31 October 2018, Delhi High Court set aside the trial court judgment that had acquitted the 16 Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) officials. The High Court convicted all the accused and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
The story below was first published on 25 May 2017. It is being republished from the The Quint's archives on 22 May 2022.
More than 30 years ago, India witnessed horrific, cold-blooded murders that stand testimony to the country’s sharpened religious fault-lines and impunity for the authorities. The Hashimpura massacre of 22 May 1987 claimed the lives of 42 men – all believed to have been from the Muslim community in Meerut’s Hashimpura.
The alleged perpetrators in this incident were the members of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), as they hoarded around 45 men into their truck, took them to secluded spots – the Upper Ganga canal close to Muradnagar and subsequently the Hindon canal of Makanpur – shot them and threw their bodies into the canals. However, a few lucky ones miraculously managed to survive.
Photographer Praveen Jain, who was was in Meerut and working for The Sunday Guardian when the massacre took place, captured the brutality of the security personnel on camera. Speaking to The Quint, he said:
I did not even know that it would be such a big thing. When I went there, I saw all those who were rounded up were young people. But I never thought that they will kill those people. When I got to know what had happened, I was really shocked. More so, because something like this happened so close to Delhi. The papers (press) also did not report on it.Praveen Jain
Historical Location of Meerut in 1987
In 1986, the gates of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya were opened following the ruling of a district judge. Hindus were now allowed to worship inside the mosque. The development was seen as a significant success for the movement to build a Rama temple at the site, that had gained momentum in the early 1980s. It also stirred communal tensions throughout Uttar Pradesh.
Meerut found itself located against this communal discord in the 1980s. Additionally, the district had also seen a series of communal riots starting from as early as 1961, followed by more in 1968, 1973 and 1982. As Nilanajan Mukhopadhaya points out, though most of these were triggered by “petty causes”, they all had a continuous undertone of “deep-rooted prejudices between Hindus and Muslims”.
In his essay Development of an Institutionalised Riot System in Meerut City, Paul Brass further asserts that the 1982 violence unwittingly ended up becoming a “a rehearsal for the great Maliana and Hashimpur massacres of 1987.”
He refers to the Maliana violence which happened the following day on 23 May when once again PAC personnel, along with a mob of Hindus, brutally killed several people, all of them Muslims reportedly.
The riots would eventually go ahead to span a period of three months starting from mid-April in 1987.
Who Was the PAC?
The area had been experiencing an atmosphere charged with tension since April 1987 when the Provincial Armed Constabulary or Pradeshik Armed Constabulary (PAC) was called in.
The PAC is the armed police of Uttar Pradesh which is deployed when large numbers of people are present at a location, for instance, in case of fairs, festivals and other similar events. They are also called into action in case of riots or any form of organised crime. The PAC answers to the deputy inspector general and other similar higher level authorities.
Names of Political Who’s Who Involved in the Massacre
Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, visited Meerut with Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh in the aftermath of the tragedy. Another important Congress leader – whose name became tied to the tragedy – was P Chidambaram, who was the union minister of state for home in 1987.
In May 2000,16 of the 19 accused people surrendered (three were already dead by then). The accused were released on bail. In 2002, the Supreme Court transferred the case from Ghaziabad to a Sessions Court in Tis Hazari, Delhi.
After a protracted trial at the Tis Hazari court lasting 13 years, the end result was an acquittal for all of the accused, and the reason cited was lack of evidence.
The handling of the case has been squarely criticised by Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was Ghaziabad’s superintendent of police of that time, and hence closely involved. He called the CID guilty of bias and responsible for quashing any chances to have a fair probe. Moreover, he condemned the Hashimpura incident as the “the country’s biggest custodial killing after Independence”, and at the same time called it a “phenomenon that goes deep into the mindset of the Indian society – a mindset that leads to communal violence.”
(Photo Courtesy for Video: Praveen Jain)