The Hashimpura massacre of 1987, one of the worst documented killing of civilians by the Indian state since independence, still has the power to shock us with its revelations. In his new book Hashimpura 22 May: The Forgotten Story of India’s Biggest Custodial Killing, Vibhuti Narain Rai, the former director general of police of Uttar Pradesh, also points a finger at the role of the army, especially the role of Major Pathania. More distressingly, he highlights the fact that although Major Pathania changed his story radically, the details are there in his war diary. Worst of all, the courts, for all their pursuit of the policemen in question, never really managed to question this army officer, who abused his authority to order the operations in the first place.
The war diary submitted to the army headquarters also said that on the evening of 22 May, at 5 p.m., the .303 rifle that had been snatched away from head constable Harishanker of the 24th Battalion PAC had been recovered by his column. It is clear from this diary that all the arrests and searches which were made that day were carried out under the army’s directions. According to the same diary with the army headquarters, 1000 houses were searched and 600 people rounded up, besides confiscation of country-made pistols and guns, daggers and a stock of acid bottles.
The statement of the then SSP, Meerut, G.L. Sharma, recorded by the CID is quite significant. The investigating officer of the CID recorded, ‘He was not aware on whose orders were the joint operation of searches conducted, but he came to know that the officers of the local army unit had planned the operation. Meetings were held at the army headquarters relating to this. It was only the army which decided where all to conduct the searches. The directives for the searches were being issued orally at the meetings. The lists of arrested people, including the number of Hindus and Muslims, used to be prepared by the army officers and sent to the army headquarters.’
More than a dozen witnesses deposed before the CID that Major Pathania was ordering people with a loudhailer to come out of their houses. He was also issuing instructions to the PAC and army jawans conducting the searches. The woman unit commander of the Central Reserve Police Force had recorded her statement before the CID that Major Pathania had ordered her to frisk women.
|Also read: Voices Of Hashimpura|
Many years later, after long-drawn official correspondence and efforts at various levels, the army jawans and officers appeared before the CID, but only to deny every single thing which they had themselves detailed in the official reports and diaries submitted to various higher headquarters. Major Pathania did admit that he had the loudhailer with which he made announcements, but denied that he had ordered people to come out of their houses and that he had issued any operational command to the forces. He also refuted the fact that the army had participated in any arrests and search operations. Pathania denied that the looted PAC rifles were confiscated by the army, something he had written in his reports himself.
But he had no reply about his regular situation reports and war diaries in which the army had made tall claims of the arrests made and the searches carried out.
Major Pathania’s decision to appear before the CID after a long time and deny everything they had earlier claimed in writing would not have been made suddenly. He and other army officers must have received the legal opinion that the tall claims they had made to their bosses with little knowledge of the law might have got them a pat on the back then, but whatever they did was a crime in the eyes of the law and the courts could punish them.
Pathania also ignored the repeated summons from the courts. This is the biggest instance of the Indian judicial system’s helplessness – that despite all efforts and summons, the administration could not get him to present himself before the court.
Excerpted from Hashimpura 22 May by Vibhuti Narain Rai, published by Penguin Random House and to be released on August 10.