By Vibhuti Narain Rai,
There are some experiences that stick with you throughout your life. They always stay with you like a nightmare and sometimes are like debts on your shoulders. The experience at Hashimpura Massacre was such an experience for me, says Vibhuti Narayan Rai, then Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, UP. On 22 May 1987, in Hashimpura, a locality in the Meerut City, 42 innocent Muslims were killed in cold blood by the personnel of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC).
The night of 22-23 May 1987, which I spent in the wild undergrowth along the stream flowing through the Makanpur village situated on the Delhi Ghaziabad border looking for any living souls amidst the dead bodies covered with blood in the dim light of my torch- everything is engraved in my memory like a horror movie. I had returned to Ghaziabad from Hapur at around 10 30 pm. District Magistrate, Nasim Zaidi was with me. So, I dropped him at his house before reaching the residence of the police officer. The moment the headlight of my car fell on the gates of the residence I saw an estranged and shocked Sub Inspector B. B. Singh who was the in charge of the Link road police station at that time.I could tell from my experience that something serious had happened in that area.I instructed my driver to stop the car and go off. B.B.Singh was so horrified that it did not seem possible for him to explain things coherently. Whatever he could convey while stammering about events in a disorderly manner was enough to shock me. I understood that somewhere in his station area the P. A.C. had killed some Muslims.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover (3rd from R) and activist Sandeep Pandey (2nd from R) during a programme commemorating 20th anniversary of Hashimpura massacre [Photo courtesy communalism.blogspot.com]
Why?? How many?? From where?? It was not clear. After asking him to repeat his facts again and again I tried making a narrative of the events piece by piece. According to the picture so drawn B.B. Singh was sitting in his office when around 9′ o clock he heard firing from the direction of Makanpur. He and everybody else at the station thought that there was robbery in progress in the village. Today Makanpur’s name can only be found in the revenue records. Makanpur today has tall magnificent buildings but in 1987 it was all barren land. Through this barren land ran a check road on which B.B. Singh raced his motorcycle towards the village. Behind him sat the station officer and a constable. They had barely covered a 100 yards on the check road when they saw a truck racing towards them from the opposite direction. If they had not ridden the motorcycle off the check road the truck would have ran them over.
According to them what they saw while trying to maintain their balance the truck was yellow in color and had 41 printed on the back. They even saw people in khaki clothes sitting in the back seats. It was not difficult for a police officer to understand that this was a truck belonging to the 41st battalion of the P.A.C. crossing them with some officers of the P.A.C.; but this made the situation more complicated. Why would a P.A.C. truck be coming from Makanpur at this hour?? What was the mystery behind the firing?? B.B. Singh got the motorcycle on the check road and again proceeded towards the village. The scene that he and his officers saw not more than a mile down the road gave them all goose bumps. Before the habitation of the village the check road crosses a stream. The stream goes ahead and enters into the Delhi border. There was a bridge where the check road crossed the stream.
As he reached the bridge and the headlights of B.B. Singh’s motorcycle fell on the undergrowth along the stream; he understood the mystery behind the firing. There were blood stains all over the place. Along the stream, in the undergrowth and in the water there were bodies with fresh wounds in them. B.B. Singh and his men tried to inspect the scene and to guess what happened there. All they could decipher was that there must be a relation between the bodies there and the P.A.C truck they came across on the way. Leaving the constable at the scene B.B. Singh with his fellow officer turned back to the main road. The headquarters of the 41st battalion of the P.A.C. was situated on the Delhi Ghaziabad Marg near the police station. They both headed for the headquarters.
The main gate was closed. Even after arguing for a long time the sentry did not give them the permission to go inside. B.B. Singh then decided to come to the zonal headquarters and tell me about the events.
From what I could understand from the narration it was clear that some event had occurred, the event was horrifying and that Ghaziabad could be in flames the next day. Since the past many weeks the neighboring district of Meerut was facing communal riots and these riots were moving towards Ghaziabad as well.
I first called the district magistrate Nasim Zaidi. He was about to sleep. After that I called the additional S.P. at the district headquarters, a few deputy S.P.s and magistrates and told them all to get ready. In about another 45 minutes we were heading towards the Makanpur village in about 7-8 cars.
Our cars were parked a little distance away from the bridge on the stream. No one had come from the village which was situated on the other side of the stream. It seemed that terror had forced them all to go into hiding in their houses. There were some police officers from the Link road police station though. The weak beams of their torches were falling on the thick shrubs besides the stream but it was difficult to see anything in that little light. I told the drivers to turn the cars towards the stream and turn their headlights on. An area of around 100 yards width was illuminated. What I saw in that light was the nightmare I was referring to in the beginning.
The light of the headlights was not sufficient due which torches were also carried by all the men. The stains of blood had still not dried up and blood was still dripping from them. The bodies of the dead were dumped all around some were stuck in the bushes whereas some were half submerged in the water. To check if anyone was still alive among the bodies seemed more important to me than to count and remove the dead.
We were about 20 people and everybody started looking in different directions to check if anybody was still alive. We would even yell out in between hoping that somebody would answer back, trying to tell them that we were not foes but friends and the injured would be taken to a hospital. But we got no reply. Disappointed some of us sat down on the bridge. The district in charge and I decided that there was no gain in wasting any time. We had to make strategies for the next day and we decided to leave the task of removing the bodies and completing the necessary paper work. We were about to proceed towards the Link Road station when we heard the sound of a cough coming from the stream.
Everyone froze. I leapt towards the stream. Silence fell over the place again. It was clear that there was a survivor but he did not believe that the people looking for him were friends. We started yelling out again and threw light on each individual body and in the end our eyes fell on a body which was moving. Someone was hanging by both hands from a bush with half his body in the stream in such a way that it was difficult for one to tell if he was dead or alive without proper attention. Trembling with terror and believing only after a lot of reassuring that we were there not to hurt but to save, the person who was going to tell us about this horrifying event, his name was Babbudin. The bullet had just missed and went scratching him. Unconscious he fell into the shrubs and in the stampede his killers forgot to check if he was dead or alive. Holding his breath he lay half in the water and half in the bushes and in this way he managed to cheat death. He wasn’t seriously hurt and he walked from the stream to the cars. He even rested on the bridge for some time.
When I met after 21 years while I was collecting material for the book I was writing on Hashimpura, at the same place where the P.A.C. picked him up from, he remembered that I offered him a biddi after taking one from a constable. According to what Babbudin told us that when that day during the regular checking around 50 people were made to sit in the P.A.C. truck they all thought that they were being taken to a station or a jail. The truck was taken off the main road about 45 minutes from Makanpur and stopped at distance down the road. The P.A.C. leapt down from the truck and ordered them to get down from the truck.
Only half the people had hardly got off when the P.A.C. started firing on them. The people still on the truck took cover. Babbudin was one of them. He could only guess what would have happened to the people who got off. The sounds of the firing probably reached the neighboring villages as a result of which noises started coming from them. The P.A.C. people again got on the truck. The truck reversed and again sped off towards Ghaziabad. Here it came to the Makanpur stream and the P.A.C. again ordered everyone to get off.
This time the horrified prisoners refused to get off so they were pulled and dragged from the truck. The one who came out were shot and thrown in the stream and the ones who didn’t were shot on the truck and thrown off. While Babbudin was telling us the whole incident we tried to assess the location of the first crime scene. Someone suggested that the first crime scene could be the stream which flows near the Muradnagar station which is situated on the road from Meerut to Ghaziabad. I called the Muradnagar station using the wireless at the Link road station and found that we were right.
The Muradnagar station had been facing the similar problem just some time ago. Some were found dead in the stream and some were brought back alive to the station.The story after this is a narrative of a long and torturous wait in which the issues relating to the relation between the Indian state and minorities, the unprofessional attitude of the police and the sluggish pace of the frustrating judicial system may be raised.
The cases which I had filed in Ghaziabad’s Link Road and Muradnagar Stations have been facing various roadblocks for the last 24 years and are still pending in courts and still waiting for the logical judgment.
(Vibhuti Narain Rai is currently the Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, Wardha, Maharashtra.)