Almost three decades after her husband was shot dead by the Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel in Meerut, Zaibun Shah declared that she would continue to fight for justice all her life. Clutching her husband’s photo, the middle-aged woman said that Mohammed Iqbal’s body was never returned to his family by the government of Uttar Pradesh. She only saw a photo of her husband with a bullet in his head.
“We have not got justice. We will continue to fight for justice,” she told a civil society gathering in Delhi on Tuesday.
Shah was speaking three days after a trial court acquitted 16 security personnel who were accused of murdering 42 Muslims from the Hashimpura locality in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, on the night of May 22, 1987. The middle-aged woman, along with family members of other victims, and some who survived the massacre, pledged to continue waging the legal battle.
Shah, a mother of three girls, said she received compensation of Rs4.6 lakhs in 2008, 20 years after the massacre, but the money was given on the basis of Muslim Personal Law which allowed for it to be divided among her male relatives. "It went to my dad's elder brother and his children. We got nothing."
Lawyers of the family members said the state government did not return the bodies of the dead men to avoid disturbing the peace after the chilling massacre.
Naseem Bano, who never got her brother’s body back, vowed to give another 28 years to the cause. "Our locality is experiencing the same devastation it went through 28 years ago. No food has been cooked for three days. Everyone is crying,” she said. "We are still pleading for justice. We will continue to fight until we are alive."
"Our locality is experiencing the same devastation it went through 28 years ago. We are still pleading for justice. We will continue to fight until we are alive."
The Hashimpura massacre unfolded in the shadow of growing communal tensions after the Rajiv Gandhi government opened the locks to Ayodhya's Babri Masjid for Hindus to worship in 1986. Riots broke out in Meerut in April, 1987. On May 21, PAC personnels were assaulted in the city. The next day, security forces were conducting searches for illegal arms in the Muslim localities. In Hashimpura, 19 PAC personnel rounded up around 50 men. Instead of taking them to the police station, they took the men to the Upper Ganga Canal in Murad Nagar and Hindon river in Ghaziabad, where they shot them and threw their bodies into the water.
Five survivors described the horrific bloodbath on the night of May 22, 1987. In his judgment, Additional Sessions Judge Sanjay Jindal described them as "truthful, genuine and reliable witnesses."
At the civil society meeting, Mohammed Usman lifted up his shirt to show his bullet wound to photographers, who clicked the wound in his back. Usman, who was 30-years-old in 1987, recalled how around 50 men were separated from the boys and the elderly. Then, they were packed into a yellow PAC truck, which was on the road for a long time before the personnel fired inside the vehicle.
"The PAC men got down. They turned off the light of the vehicle. It was totally dark. They took one man out and shot him. It was clear that they will kill everyone. There was going to be no jail. We felt the only solution was to get up and attack them. When we got up then they fired inside the vehicle," Usman said.
"It was totally dark. They took one man out and shot him. It was clear that they will kill everyone. There was going to be no jail."
"I had survived. Then, I was taken down from the truck. Two of them held me and the third shot me and said throw him into the water. One took my hand, the other my feet and then threw me into the canal. I was hit by another bullet in my leg before I hit the water. I tried to swim but I couldn't."
What is especially painful for the victims is that the 216-page judgment leaves no doubt the massacre did occur, but Judge Jindal doesn’t find “clinching evidence” against the 16 accused men.
"Virtually, there is no clinching evidence on record without infirmities on the circumstance relating to identity of the truck and accused persons. The accused persons cannot be convicted on the basis of scanty, unreliable and faulty investigation which has gaps and holes. Not a single circumstance relied upon by the prosecution inspire confidence to establish the guilt of the accused persons," the judgment said.
"Virtually, there is no clinching evidence on record without infirmities on the circumstance relating to identity of the truck and accused persons."
"It is very painful to observe that several innocent persons have been traumatised and their lives have been taken by the State agency but the investigating agency as well as the prosecution have failed to bring on record the reliable material to establish the identity of culprits,” the judge wrote. "The accused persons facing trial are entitled to benefit of doubts existing in the case of prosecution."
Who then is responsible for these deaths, and will they ever get justice, are questions posed by family members of the dead.
“The PAC took them. Then who did they give our children to. They will know," she said. "They are saying we don't know who killed them. But someone killed them," said Naseem.
Vrinda Grover and Rebecca John, lawyers for the victims, have blamed the shoddy investigation by the Uttar Pradesh CB-CID for the lack of evidence against the accused men. The chargesheet for the 1987 massacre was filed in 1996, the case transferred by the Supreme Court to Delhi in 2002, and charges for murder, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence were framed against them in 2006. Three accused men and several witnesses died during this time. Ten of the acquitted men have continued to serve in the U.P. Police.
The lawyers said they will appeal the judgment.
For instance, Judge Jindal found the evidence presented did not bring on record "reliable and conclusive evidence to show that truck no. URU1493 was the truck which was used by the culprits."
But John said they had presented evidence about the "gaping hole" at the back of the truck, where a "metal piece" was later placed, which showed cross-firing inside the truck. “Five of the survivors said that it was a yellow truck, a PAC truck, and the driver was Mokham Singh.”
Grover said the state government could not longer be relied on to deliver justice.
"I find it as a dry recital of facts as though it is a run-of the-mill dispute that happened in Lodhi Colony, rather than a massacre of this magnitude."
John said the judgment did not take into account the horrific circumstances of the mass murder and the lengthy delay in carrying out the investigation.
“This judgment is a disappointment. I was conscious of some of the limitations of the evidence but I had hoped for more. I find it as a dry recital of facts as though it is a run-of the-mill dispute that happened in Lodhi Colony, rather than a massacre of this magnitude," she said.