Hashimpura massacre, 1987
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The survivor’s evidence
Hashimpura Massacre Witness Who Fought 31 Years For Justice
Babudin Ansari, 48 years old, has been waiting for an answer for 31 years. On Wednesday, when the Delhi high court sentenced 16 Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel to life imprisonment for the Hashimpura massacre of May 22, 1987, the survivor who fought for justice for all his adult life got his answer.
“My purpose was to let the world know what had happened that Friday night during Ramzan. I was waiting to know if I had done this task. Today I got my answer,” Ansari said. He was 17 years old when PAC men bundled him into a truck along with dozens of Muslim men from Hashimpura locality here and took them to the bank of a canal in Moradnagar.
“At the canal, the PAC men dragged out one of us and shot him. Panic set in among us, and suddenly the policemen began firing at us while we were still inside the truck. I was hit in the waist. Then the policemen entered the truck and shot me in the chest. They threw the bodies and me, thinking I was dead, into the canal,” Ansari said. He clung to a branch near the bank, barely alive. By the time the shooting ended, 42 men were dead.
Hours later, Ghaziabad police found him and five other survivors, after which then senior superintendent of police VN Rai filed an FIR against the PAC men. Ansari was the only witness who could corroborate the entire sequence of events. He has lost count of the number of times he went to Delhi to appear in the trial. “Probably 400 times in these three decades. I never got any compensation because it was given to the relatives of those who were killed. Every visit to court would cost me a day’s wage in addition to the travelling expenses. But I had to bear witness,” said Ansari.
Relatives of the dead victims welcomed the verdict, but said their grief was still intense. Zulfikar Nasir, one of the five complainants in the case, said, “After the case was filed, we were threatened, to withdraw the case. Justice was delayed, but at least the nation knows that we were wronged.”
Delhi HC’s verdict, 2018
The survivors and the families of the victims of the Hashimpura massacre had waited over three decades for justice.
On Wednesday, a little over 31 years later, the Delhi high court delivered closure, convicting 16 former UP Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel of shooting dead 42 Muslim men (38 bodies were found) in Meerut’s Hashimpura area in the sweltering night of May 22, 1987 and sentencing them to imprisonment for the remainder of their natural lives. The judgment overturned a trial court’s acquittal in 2015.
The men had been shot and thrown into an irrigation canal. A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel said it was a case of “targeted killings of persons belonging to one minority community”. The judges did not go into hearing arguments on sentencing.
IPC Section 302 (murder) provides for only a life term or the death penalty.
Just payout isn’t enough: Court
The bench also convicted the 16 former PAC personnel of kidnapping, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence under the IPC.
“The present case involved the abduction of 42 to 45 persons belonging to the minority community and the killing of 38 of them soon after the incident of riots in which two rifles of the PAC were allegedly taken away by the rioters. It points to the disproportionate reaction by the PAC in targeting members of the minority community,” the bench observed.
The court noted that the families of the victims had to wait 31 years to get justice and monetary relief could not be considered adequate compensation. It directed the convicts to surrender on or before November 22. All 16 convicts have retired from service.
“The gravity of the crime is obvious. At the same time, the court is aware that this case has been pending for over three decades for reasons not entirely attributable to the accused. Their acquittal by the trial court 28 years after the event is reversed by this court, 31 years after the event. The present age of the accused persons has also therefore to be accounted for. The court also notes that substantial sums by way of compensation have been disbursed to the victims and their families,” it observed while deciding petitions challenging the trial court’s acquittal of the 16 PAC men.
It said the evidence against the PAC personnel was “clinching” in nature and the charges against them stood true beyond reasonable doubt. The high court had on September 6 reserved its verdict on the appeals filed by Uttar Pradesh, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and some private parties, including a survivor of the massacre, Zulfiqar Nasir.
On March 21, 2015, a trial court had acquitted the 16 former PAC personnel by giving them the benefit of doubt, saying their identities could not be established due to lack of evidence. Nineteen people were named as accused and charges were framed against 17 by the court here in 2006. The case was transferred to Delhi on the Supreme Court’s direction in September 2002 following a petition by the families of the massacre victims and survivors. Of the 17 accused, the trial court had acquitted 16; one per had died during trial.