You are subject to some experiences that stick with you through life. They haunt you like a nightmare and, at times, are like debts on your shoulders. Thirty years ago, on the night of May 22, 1987, I was exposed to one such nightmarish experience. Standing on the bank of the muddy and slow moving Gang canal, I was witness to the worst custodial killing in independent India. I spent many hours in the wild undergrowth along a stream, flowing through Makanpur village on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border, looking for any living soul among the bloodied dead bodies under the dim light of my torch — much of it is still engraved in my memory like a horror movie.
As events unfolded, we would find out that the PAC, the armed wing of the Uttar Pradesh Police, had picked up dozens of Muslims from Hashimpura, a locality in the adjoining city of Meerut, and killed them in cold blood at two places on the Gang canal. In the midst of all the din and confusion, blood and flesh, emotions and prejudices, the writer beneath my uniform knew that one day I would write on this gory experience. That may be the only way to repay the debt which I owe because of the violence unleashed by my fellow khaki brethren.
There is an old saying that language is a very poor substitute for thought. I would realise it fully only when I eventually got down to writing this book. I discovered how difficult it is to capture the pain and the wails of the victims and their families. The writer in me never faced such a challenge before. I am essentially a fiction writer, and sometimes, I draw certain characters from real-life experiences. They become my own once entrapped in my plot, and I play with them as per my creative requirement. But the characters of Hashimpura, both the living and the dead, refused to be subservient to me. In fact, I submitted myself to them. They would walk, sleep and live with me and didn’t allow me any liberties.
The monstrosity of the incident was so overpowering that it laid a virtual siege on me, and writing on it often left me scrounging for the right words. I was often so depleted of energy that it slowed me down like never before — one could never wrap up even a small chapter in one sitting. By the time the words could size them up, the ghosts would have stretched themselves taller and wider.
As though the apologetic paucity of words was looking for a new bottom. Now, how will you bind in words the predicament of Jaibunnisa, who delivered a lovely baby girl on May 22, 1987, just around the time her husband succumbed to a rain of bullets that blew him up into smithereens at the Gang canal.
It was often that I postponed writing for weeks and months on end, and at one point in time, threw my hands up in despair — enough, I told myself. But was it easier said than done? In fact, it was difficult to say and more impossible to do. Every time, the living and the dead of Hashimpura would be breathing down my neck and I would realise my writer would never attain nirvana if I left their story untold — worse still, half-told. It took me over a decade to complete this not very voluminous book.
Twenty-eight years later, the persons facing trial for the cold-blooded murder of the hapless victims were acquitted by the court. I realised that all stakeholders of the Indian State — the political leadership, bureaucracy and police, media and judiciary — had failed. Hashimpura should not be viewed in isolation.
In spite of a lofty and well-meaning Constitution, the institutions created by it have miserably failed to arrest the growth of communalisation in society. Specially during the 1980s and 1990s, when the violent agitation for Ram Janmabhoomi ensured unprecedented communalisation of the Hindu middle-class. The enthusiasts of self-appointed vigilante groups killing humans for cows or male chauvinists trying to enforce dress codes for women are only symptoms of the great malaise.
When I was working on this book, many colleagues, friends and activists tried to convince me that Hashimpura should be forgotten as an aberration and writing on it would rustle up wounds and not let them heal with time. But I feel that the very fact that Hashimpura happened and that all the accused were subsequently acquitted is of vital consequence for Indian society to understand and analyse. It has a direct connect with the secular structure of the country and needs a deeper discourse. In this sense, Hashimpura remains a screaming instance of merciless and barbaric use of brute State force and a spineless politically expedient government lying prostrate before its own men, the killers.
I don’t want the wounds to wear out. It is necessary to pin-prick the eyes of the Indian State that it did not bother to do what it was supposed to, rather did everything that our painstakingly created Constitution does not allow them to. If we choose to forget one Hashimpura, many more will happen. The present scenario of the country and UP requires more and more discourses on Hashimpura. Hashimpura 22 May was written in Hindi but it is very interesting that English and Tamil translations are out and the original Hindi version is still waiting to see the light of the day.