30 years after UP’s Hashimpura massacre, survivors recount night of ‘bloodbath’, rue lack of justice
In Hashimpura, a crumbling Muslim-majority neighbouring in the heart of Meerut, residents struggle to move on.
At 80, Jamaluddin’s memory is fading but he still remembers May 22, 1987 like it was yesterday.
“Wo humaare aur humaare bachchon ke liye qayamat ka din tha… qayamat ka” (It was a day of doom for us and our children), Jamaluddin, who uses only one name, tells HT.
Thirty years ago, he lost his eldest son Qamaruddin allegedly to the bullets of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh.
The armed police team allegedly rounded up hundreds of Muslim men in Meerut’s Hashimpura locality, picked out some of them, drove them to nearby water bodies in a truck and shot each of them. The force had been attacked a day before, during Hindu-Muslim riots, and apparently wanted to teach the community a lesson, activists say.
Historians and experts later described the killings as among India’s worst incidents of custodial violence. The trial began only in 1996, and two years ago all accused were cleared of all charges by a trial court in what activists have called a grave miscarriage of justice.
“It took 28 years for the judgment to come and all of them were acquitted. It was a terrible day for us,” Hazra, a 72-year-old woman who lost her eldest son, recounts.
Back in Hashimpura, a crumbling Muslim-majority neighbouring in the heart of Meerut, residents struggle to move on. Timber shops and textile workshops jostle for space in the maze of narrow streets with cheek-by-jowl tenements.
“They dragged a man outside, shot him and threw him into the water. That sight caused mayhem. It was then that we realised that they had brought us here to kill us. When everyone refused to be dragged out of the truck, they opened fire at all of us. It was a bloodbath,” says Babuddin, a textile worker now in his forties.
He says he was a teenager originally from Darbhanga in Bihar, and one of the few people who survived the alleged massacre. Babuddin became a witness in the trial that ended in 2015 with the acquittal of all accused on account of insufficient evidence.
A challenge to the verdict is pending before the Delhi high court.
“We have asked for certain additional documents from the state that were relevant but had not been presented in the trial. The date is now fixed for 13th of July,” said Vrinda Grover, advocate for the victims.
Many of the families aren’t hopeful of a breakthrough and say that the investigation was shoddy. “It seems that the job of the investigative agencies was to defend and protect the people responsible for Hashimpura,” says then Meerut superintendent of police Vibhuti Narain Rai who has written a book on the incident.
Back in Hashimpura, the local population is still traumatised from memories of that day and says that the PAC was organised and planned in its operation. The locality is almost U-shaped, making it difficult for people to flee, and the constant hum of handloom machines is a daily companion. Most houses are rundown with flaking paint, as if local residents have given up hope of a better life.
“My husband was reading the Quran. The PAC came, took away the book from him and told him to step outside. They said he would be back in two minutes. It has been thirty years now,” said Zareena Bano, 68, with tears in her eyes. She lost her husband and her teenage son.
According to eyewitnesses, hundreds of men were sent to prison for weeks where they were interrogated and beaten up. “There were no charges against any of us. They were beating us up just because we were Muslims,” said Riyazuddin, who was amongst those sent to prison, when he was 14.
Babuddin says the killings happened in two phases – the first at the Gang Canal of Muradnagar, 40 minutes away from Hashimpura, and the second at the Hindon.
Babuddin says he was shot in his chest. Miraculously, he managed to survive. “I was still alive when I was thrown into the river. I knew how to swim so I made way to a big rock and hid there. From there I could see how the PAC kept on killing people.”
But despite the trial and the setbacks, some are hopeful in Hashimpura. “Allah is watching everything. The accused know what they have done. The truth will come out one day,” Zareena says.