The Delhi High Court on Wednesday reversed a trial court order to sentence 16 former member of Uttar Pradesh’s dreaded Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) for killing 42 people in 1987 in Meerut. This later came to be known as the Hashimpura massacre.
A trial court in 2015 had acquitted all 16 men, all retired now, giving them the benefit of doubt. This was the biggest case of custodial killings in independent India. There were originally 19 accused but three died during the prolonged trial.
Vibhuti Narain Rai, the then Superintendent of Police in Ghaziabad who registered the first FIR in the case on the night of May 22-23, 1987, was quoted by news agency IANS. “This was the first and biggest custodial massacre in independent India. There was a similar carnage in Nellie but that was not in police custody unlike this.”
Reading the chronology of the event since 1987 will help one understand just how inefficient the Indian judiciary has been towards delivering justice to the families of victims.
50 Muslims were picked up from the Hashimpura neighbourhood by the 41st Battalion of the PAC during a search operation, taken away in trucks, lined up and shot dead in cold blood. Victims were later shot and bodies thrown into canal. 42 persons declared dead.
The Uttar Pradesh government ordered a UP CB-CID probe in the case only in 1988, showing almost sense of urgency to probe the worst custodial killing in independent India. It took the CB-CID six more years to submit its report in February 1994. They indicted 60 personnel from PAC and the police of all ranks in their report.
Making mockery of the Indian justice system, no tangible progress was made on the CB-CID report until May 1996, when charge sheet was filed against 19 accused before Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ghaziabad by CB-CID of Uttar Pradesh police. 161 people listed as witnesses, reported PTI.
The case continued to linger on and it took the intervention of the Supreme Court in 2002 to transfer the case on petition by the families of victims and survivors. Delhi court took another four years to frame the charges of murder, attempt to murder, tampering with evidence and conspiracy under the IPC against 17 accused. Nine years later in 2015, the trial court pronounced all the accused innocent.
The PAC personnel often played key role during communal riots in 80s and 90s, when Uttar Pradesh saw frequent religious violence. However, justice being delivered to the families of Hashimpura massacre has come as too little too late. The fact that it took 32 years for the Indian judicial system to merely pronounce the men, who carried out one of the most brutal human rights violations, guilty shows the breakdown in India’s judiciary.