Delhi High Court Wednesday sentenced to life imprisonment 16 retired personnel of the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) for their role in the killing of 38 Muslims in Hashimpura, Meerut, in May 1987. Who are the UP PAC and what are their responsibilities?
The UP PAC is one of several State Armed Police Forces who operate in addition to the regular state police, and are equipped to handle law and order situations that are more severe than usual. There are the Bihar Military Police, Haryana Armed Police, Karnataka State Reserve Police, Odisha Special Armed Police, and the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary, for example.
The official history of the UP Pradeshik Armed Constabulary records that it was created in 1948 after the UP Military Police and UP State Armed Constabulary were merged, in order “to prevent frequent deployment of the Army in grave law & order situations which the local police could not handle on its own”. Thirteen companies of the UP Military Police had been raised in 1940 to keep “internal security”, and as World War II raged, the force was bulked up to 36 companies. Soon after Independence, the force was controversially reorganised — allegedly to “adjust” for the composition of the provincial police, which retained significant numbers from the minority community even after Partition.
The PAC is headquartered in Lucknow, which is also the headquarters of the PAC’s central zone. The western and eastern zones are headquartered in Moradabad and Allahabad respectively. According to a chart of the PAC organisation on the UP Police website, 10 of the PAC’s total 33 battalions are stationed in the eastern zone, nine in the central zone, and 14 in the western zone. The force is organised in 273 platoons, 200 of which are currently active.
The PAC is assigned to VIP duties, and often deployed to try and ensure that situations don’t turn violent in large gatherings, public festivals, and celebrations. They are also called in at the time of elections and natural disasters, to deal with student or labour unrest, and to guard key posts. Over the years, however, the PAC has faced a litany of allegations of partisan and arbitrary actions.
-The PAC was criticised for its role in the communal incidents in Aligarh in October 1978. In a report submitted to Home Minister Charan Singh, the newly-constituted Minorities Commission recommended that the PAC be withdrawn from Aligarh, and that it should be completely overhauled with the induction of persons from the minority community in its ranks. Several years later, then Janata Party MP Syed Shahabuddin was quoted as saying: “The PAC is no less evil than the Nazi occupation armies. It is out to destroy the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh.”
-Earlier in May 1973, the PAC had come out against the state government in a full-blown revolt that required the Army to quell. PAC personnel indulged in arson and violence, tagging their demand for better wages and work conditions with an agitation by Lucknow University students. Thirty-five PAC personnel were killed; the mutiny led to the exit of Chief Minister Kamlapati Tripathi in June that year, and fed into the general unrest and nationwide strikes of the time. PAC personnel did end up getting better wages and allowances.
-The ‘anti-Muslim’ narrative around the PAC gained traction after the 1987 Hashimpura killings. In his essay ‘Communal Riots and the Police’ (in Communal Riots, the State and Law in India: 1997), A G Noorani wrote that the “disturbances at Firozabad, Varanasi, Azamgarh and Basti were not really communal riots; they were in the nature of the armed constabulary’s crackdown on the Muslims”. Former police officer Vibhuti Narain Rai, author of the acclaimed novel Shehr Mein Curfew and a book on Hashimpura, batted for “increased representation of minorities, especially Muslims, in the police either through reservation or by developing some in-house methodologies, which could prevent biased attitudes responsible for hostile behaviour towards Muslims”.