Hashimpura and Legal Fiction of Accountability

0
In this May 1987 photo a group of men from Hashimpura, Meerut are being herded before being transported in a truck. At least 42 of them were killed later allegedly by the members of Provincial Armed Constabulary of Uttar Pradesh.  With the number of victims not established, the prosecution used the photo as clinching evidence to build a case for compensation for 42 families, besides five survivors. Image courtesy: Indian Express photo by Praveen Jain
In this May 1987 photo a group of men from Hashimpura, Meerut are being herded before being transported in a truck. At least 42 of them were killed later allegedly by the members of Provincial Armed Constabulary of Uttar Pradesh. With the number of victims not being established, the prosecution used the photo as clinching evidence to build a case for compensation for 42 families, besides five survivors. Image courtesy: Indian Express photo by Praveen Jain

TAHMINA LASKAR

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n 1987, 42 Muslim boys and men were picked up in Hashimpura near Meerut in an official PAC vehicle, taken to the edge of a canal gunned down and dumped in. Now, we know for sure no one killed them.

It is not the first time that we are witnessing the helplessness of a system where it fails to fix accountability on anyone and all of us have to assume that terrible lapses on the part of enforcers of law and order just happened all by themselves and nobody actually perpetrated them.

That it took 28 years to get to a verdict is an indictment of the justice system, if any further proof were needed that it is already under a death sentence. We talk of fast track courts but it seems the places where we need them the most are often ignored. Why fast-tracking of justice cannot be a norm instead of exception or a selective ploy.  It is no secret that when cops investigate fellow cops and most of the time save the face by manipulating the entire scene.

In this case the delay was such that all evidence was never marshaled properly, the prosecution case remained forever weak. These things happen all the time and one would not be wrong if one suspects foul play in actually deliberately keeping the prosecution case weaker.

There are instances too when some righteous officers mustered the courage to challenge the system and bring perpetrators to book they are either silenced or maligned. Sanjiv Bhatt is one such officer who is known for raising his flag against the State and its complicity during the Gujarat Pogrom of 2002. But he was then maligned, suspended and framed in some other cases.

The policemen accused of one of the worst communal massacres in independent India were suspended for a brief period and then reinstated. A suspension is done whenever there is dereliction of duty or misconduct.  Then a departmental inquiry is conducted. The officer may be suspended, which is a temporary barring of duties, position, and post. During this time, the officer may earn a subsistence allowance but does not usually get full pay. This varies from state to state.

In some states, the officer may even be promoted, the recent developments in Gujarat being a case in point. It all depends on what is written in the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) which is the police officer’s report card. In this case too, they remained in the force, some were even promoted. They had the reward in their kitty by way of interfering with the outcome of the trial.

People point out that it is the so-called secular Congress that was in power then. That is to miss the point. This assumes the truth of a secret we all know that political power determines outcomes.

Who was in power at that time is of no relevance or should not be but the fact remains that for all we know political power does determine outcomes. But when it comes to the security forces Vs. Aam Aadmi and more so if it is Muslims then all political parties, indeed the whole establishment will go to lengths to make sure that the outcomes are their favor.

This is what has perpetuated impunity. So that building on the 28-year old Hashimpura, we have moved on with ease. Even when there is proof positive as in videos (in some recent cases) we want to go through the motions of an inquiry and ‘due process’ in the hope that people will eventually forget and the victims will be defeated In a battle of attrition. The evil is only a matter of degree when it comes to political parties shielding the perpetrators.

The five men who survived the Hashimpura massacre managed to make it to the Delhi court and bravely testified. They believed in the system like any other citizen would do. They patiently waited for 28 years for justice which eluded them in the end.

So who lost? It is the nation that has lost. It has lost its right to be called a law-enforcing constitutional republic. During the long, endless wait, the victims and their families never lost hope.  Their dignified struggle is what all should look up to rather than down upon.

Accountability in such remains a farce or at best a legal fiction, which can only be assumed but not fixed. The overhauling of service rules which still smack of colonialism is needed urgently.

No matter how much and how long we debate and pontificate about police and judicial reforms. In the end it all comes down to accountability. It’s only when accountability is assured that we can expect reforms and a change for the better. Otherwise we may have a multitude of courts, tribunals and various law enforcing bodies and agencies in place yet helpless watch killers and criminals get away with murder — literally.

_________________________________

All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here