During the trial that stretched 27 years, Babbudin rarely missed a hearing. On Saturday, the 42-year-old showed up at 10 am at the Tis Hazari courts in Delhi, confident justice would be done. Hours later, he and three of the five who survived the 1987 massacre of over 40 Muslim men in Hashimpura, Meerut, returned home shattered — all 16 surviving personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, accused in the case, were given the “benefit of doubt” and acquitted.
Bringing to an end one of the longest trials, additional sessions judge Sanjay Jindal, while acquitting the PAC personnel, said the court was giving them the “benefit of doubt for want of sufficient evidence regarding their identity”. Three other PAC personnel, who made up the initial 19 accused, died during the course of the trial. They had all been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy and tampering of evidence.
According to the prosecution, the PAC personnel had landed at Hashimpura on May 22, 1987 after a round of communal violence in Meerut district. They were said to have taken away some 50 Muslim men, including Babbudin who was just 15, from a crowd of 500 outside a mosque.
The prosecution said the men were shot and their bodies thrown into the canal — some surfaced in the Hindon Canal in Ghaziabad and others in the Upper Ganga Canal in Muradnagar. Just how many died never became clear though most agreed that 42 bodies were found and identified. The CB-CID of Uttar Pradesh police, which probed the case, had listed 161 people as witnesses.
But on Saturday, the court noted there was insufficient evidence regarding the identity of the PAC personnel — the detailed order is expected Monday — and freed Suresh Chand Sharma, Niranjan Lal, Kamal Singh, Rambir Singh, Samiullah, Mahesh Prasad, Jaipal Singh, Ram Dhayam, Sarwan Kumar, Leela Dhar, Hambir Singh, Kunwar Pal Singh, Budha Singh, Budhi Singh, Mokham Singh and Basant Vallabh.
The court referred the matter of rehabilitation of the survivors and families of the victims to the District Legal Services Authority.
Vrinda Grover, counsel for the victims and their families, said: “The detailed order is awaited, so we cannot comment on the judgment. But the court explicitly stating that the victims be given compensation recognises the fact that custodial murder of the victims took place. It is the failure of the CB-CID to identify the accused. The onus of identifying the accused is on the prosecution, which it has failed to do so. This raises serious questions about the functioning of the probe agencies.”
Massacre survivor Zulfiqar Nasir, of the same age as Babbudin and the first prosecution witness, works out of a dimly-lit metals workshop in Meerut. He doesn’t forget the night they were shot. It was the last Friday of the holy month of Ramzan.
“Yasin was the first, Ashraf second and then it was my turn. While I was being dragged, I fell flat on the ground. I thought my end had come. They continued to kill, one at a time. I was shot but the bullet hit me in the arm pit. I pretended to be dead. I held my breath and lay in a pile of bodies. They then threw us into the river,” Nasir said.
At 60, Mohammed Usman is the oldest of the survivors. He was shot in the abdomen and legs. He now limps and sells fruits in the same mohalla to keep the family going.
“My family had to sell everything for my treatment. For me, life has only been about survival. We have been in debt for years. What justice can be done now.” Usman was shot and thrown into the Upper Ganga Canal. He had to spend over a month at the AIIMS in Delhi.
When the PAC came calling, they spared his five brothers. “I was the only one who looked physically fit, so they put me in the truck… Allah must have punished me for something wrong.” Usman’s five sons had to give up studies. “I could not support them financially. Now they work as tailors, in the power loom. What compensation can return them their education.”
Babbudin was the first to lodge an FIR at the Link Road police station in Ghaziabad. As a 15-year-old from Darbhanga in Bihar, he had come to Hashimpura to visit an uncle during the summer vacation. “I remember everything clearly. I was visiting Sadiq chacha. Some men came to his house and took us to the bridge. We were segregated according to our age.”
After lodging the FIR, he returned to Darbhanga. Only to return to Hashimpura five years later. “After the incident, I could neither study nor get a job. I had to come to Hashimpura mohalla for a job… The only thing that has changed in all these years is that earlier I used to work on manual textile looms, now I work with power looms.” Babbudin is married and has two children. He earns Rs 5,000 per month.
In court rooms, over 27 years
* May 22, 1987: 50 Muslim men picked up, allegedly by PAC personnel, from Hashimpura.
* May, 1987: The men were shot and bodies thrown into canals. 42 persons presumed dead.
* 1996: 19 PAC personnel chargesheeted in Ghaziabad court by Uttar Pradesh CB-CID. 161 people listed as witnesses.
* September 2002: Case transferred to Delhi by Supreme Court on petition by families of victims, survivors.
* July 2006: Delhi court frames charges against 17 accused.
* January 22, 2015: Court reserves judgment for February 21.
* February 21: Court defers verdict, seeking more clarification from prosecution.
* March 21: Court acquits 16 surviving accused, gives them benefit of doubt regarding identity.