MANY RELATIVES of victims of the Hashimpura massacre were barely old enough to understand what was happening when their fathers and brothers were taken away in a Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) van and shot dead in the massacre of 1987.
But they, as well as the few survivors, clearly remember spending the last 31 years making trips to Ghaziabad and later Delhi for court hearings, and in the process losing out on their education, a decent job and a family.
The Indian Express spoke to four survivors — Mujibur Rehman, Babbudin, Mohammad Usman and Zulfiqar Nasir — and several relatives of those killed, and found that they had to rely on donations to attend court, while staying afloat on meagre pay in power looms, local shops and construction sites.
On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court set aside a trial court judgment of 2015 that acquitted 16 PAC personnel for their role in the killing of 38 Muslims, and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
Babbudin, a survivor who worked at a power loom, said he would often not have enough money to pay for the journey to Delhi to attend the hearings, and usually “depended on others for even a meal”.
A bullet wound to another survivor Mohammad Usman’s leg meant his travel to court was “painful”. “There were many times we went to Delhi and Ghaziabad, taking buses, trains and sometimes private cars. It was not easy even though we survived that massacre,” Usman said.
Usman’s family ran into debt following which he had to leave Hashimpura selling his family home. “I set up a fruit stall but that did not work. I worked as a labourer for some time and then had to give that up, too, because of my injury,” he said.
Many households were left without breadwinners after the massacre. Jaibunisha remembers clutching her two-day-old daughter when her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, was picked up. “My three daughters and I fought for justice all these years. My daughter’s memory of their father is the massacre,” she said. “I completed my Class V exams. All of us have been working as domestic helps to sustain ourselves,” Jaibunisha’s daughter Nazia, now 31-years-old, said.
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Qamaruddin’s father, Jamaluddin (81), recalls how he had to run to several hospitals, jails and police stations looking for his son. “To this day, it hurts that he was slaughtered. An officer at the Moradnagar police station showed my son’s body, bloated and unrecognisable. I helped the officer identify some of the other bodies, too,” Jamaluddin said.
Mohammad Asif, who works as a labourer at construction sites, was just two when his father Shamim was found dead. “I spend most of my days waking at 6 am and visiting the local labour chowk for work. We are seven brothers who grew up without an education. If the PAC had left us alone that day, I would have had a good life…and a father,” Asif said.
Jamil Ahmad was 16 when his father was taken away. He still runs a tea stall which his father had at the time. “I never imagined that I would still be working at my father’s tea stall… But how could I have moved on in life when I spent most of it fighting for my father? When the PAC came knocking on our doors, my father asked me to hide. I thank him for that,” Ahmad said.
According to survivors and victims, the UP Government paid each family Rs 5 lakh, which was “not enough”. The compensation was used by some families to pay off their debts, while others tried to buy land in another district.
“We spent most of the money within a few months. The Government also distributed the money among family members, and even 15-year-olds were given Rs 25,000. It became very difficult to spend that money wisely,” said Shenaz, Qamruddin’s younger sister.
“The massacre tarnished our locality’s image and work is still scarce. Some eateries have come up in the area but there is neglect on part of the administration. People are hesitant to set up a business here,” Nasir, a survivor, said.
Mujibur Rehman survived the massacre by playing dead, and later registered a case at the Link Road police station in Meerut, setting off the investigation into the massacre. “I remember resurfacing on the canal bank clutching at grass and waiting. I registered the case but at that time thought nothing would come out of it. I survived the bullet but the wait for justice killed us all,” he said.
Many said they were left “shocked” when the lower court acquitted the 16 PAC men giving them the benefit of doubt after the accused could not be identified. “When they were shooting at us, there was complete chaos. It was difficult to identify the men in the dark. The men who shot us walked free that day,” Nasir said.
But after the High Court judgment, the families of victims have called for the death penalty. “At least the High court identified the men. Everyone around us have lost our loved ones. We want these men to hang,” said Babbudin.