New Delhi: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” These words by the African-American social reformer Frederick Douglass, quoted by Fateh Nadvi of the Khudai Khidmatgar at a meeting on the Hashimpura trial court verdict, probably best describe the sense of injustice the verdict has created among many people. A Delhi court acquitted all 16 accused in the 1987 massacre in which 42 Muslims were shot dead near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh by personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary of the state police. The meeting was jointly organised by the Khudai Khidmatgar and the Socialist Yuvjan Sabha.
Ever since the order came in March, those fighting for justice for the victims have been a devastated lot. The court said the evidence proved insufficient for them to convict the 16 accused in the case. But the Uttar Pradesh government recently provided the survivors and relatives of the victims with a glimmer of hope when it moved the Delhi High Court on May 22, the 27th anniversary of the massacre, against the trial court’s order. Coming a few days after two appeals were filed by family members of the victims, the UP government claimed there were lapses in the trial court’s findings. It said the trial court had not adequately appreciated the evidence brought before it to show that the victims were rounded up and taken by the accused personnel in a truck.
The Delhi High Court on May 29 issued notices to the State of UP and the accused PAC personnel to respond and the matter will be heard next on July 21.
The delay in justice has not gone down well with the intelligentsia and legal community either. Supreme Court lawyer Anil Nauriya critiqued the trial court’s argument that no personal accountability could be fixed for an incident like Hashimpura. He pointed to offences in criminal law like that of unlawful assembly in which offenders are punished jointly. Hashimpura, Nauriya said, was a clear case of “degradation of human dignity”, where the evidence was tampered with, senior police and army officials were never called to court, nobody was held accountable and compensation was not provided.
Civil rights activist and former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Rajinder Sachar, recalled how he had gone on a fact finding and prepared a report on Hashimpura which was sent to the state government. It was after this, he said, that “the Gyan Prakash Committee was constituted and a case was registered against the PAC jawans involved. But sadly, proper investigation was never done or action was never taken because even after 8-9 years the jawans were still holding their positions and no departmental inquiry had been instituted against them. On our request, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Delhi.”
Pointing to a conspiracy in helping the accused, Justice Sachar said the records pertaining to the movement of the truck in which the Muslim men were taken away, and the deployment of arms and jawans, were not maintained properly. The court also did not examine the records carefully. Justice Sachar said the People’s Union for Civil Liberties would also be appealing the judgment.
N.D. Pancholi pointed to how judicial delays had deprived the victims of both justice and compensation: “The CB-CID report of this incident took eight long years where 64 people were named as accused. After a wait of 15 years, the case was transferred by the apex court and the hearing started only in 2005. The prosecution did its job sincerely and honestly. However, photographer Praveen Jain, a key witness, who photographed the incident, was never called to court and was only considered when he himself turned up at court,” he said. Pancholi argued that collusion between the police and politicians is the primary reason police reforms never happen and the reports are never implemented.
A young Supreme Court lawyer, Kabir Dixit, spoke of the need to keep fighting in the courts: “Judgments, good or bad, are never final. It is true that offenders are set free and the innocent are put behind bars and tortured. However, we should not give up on the justice system and for this, efforts to revive the system should also be made.”
His views were echoed by the local Khudai Khidmatgar founder, Faisal Khan, who emphasized that “positive thinking has become a necessity in such tumultuous times.”