'Half-justice' in Gulbarg Society case is a win after Hashimpura, Maliana injustices
In the context of Hashimpura and Maliana, conviction of 24 accused in Gulbarg has partly, if not substantially, restored trust in criminal justice system.
Zakia Jafri and her family may not be entirely satisfied with Thursday's court verdict on the Gulbarg society killings, but they cannot be entirely unhappy either.
The conviction by a Special Sessions Court in Ahmedabad of the 24 accused, and the acquittal of the 36 involved in the riots evoked mixed reactions – from being partly vindicated to substantially let down by the system for letting off serious offenders. After all, the massacre of 69 people – including Zakia’s husband Ehsan Zafri – cannot be the handiwork of just 24 convicts.
Yet, the conviction of the accused in the Gulbarg society riots would appear to be a positive development, when one contrasts it with the fate of more serious riots in Meerut – just 50 km away from Delhi – exactly 29 years ago.
Maliana and Hashimpura killings in Meerut are still the festering wounds of Western Uttar Pradesh – an area where the communal tinderbox often explodes at the slightest pretext.
Let us recall what had happened in Hashimpura, where able-bodied Muslim youths were dragged out of their houses on 22 May 1987 and brought to Ghaziabad, where they were asked to kneel down. Officials and Jawans of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), who had conducted this operation, fired from their rifles and killed 42 people.
Some of the youth escaped death by jumping into the Hindon canal flowing nearby. They were later rescued by a conscientious superintendent of police – VN Rai and his team. The Centre and the state were ruled by Congress back then – Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister while Bir Bahadur Singh was UP Chief Minister.
A day after conducting this operation in Hashimpura, a strong team of PAC personnel descended to Maliana, a Muslim locality in Meerut. Once again, Muslim men were asked to come out of their houses with their hands raised. Before anybody could realize the intent of the exercise, the PAC men started indiscriminate firing and killed 73 persons in cold blood. Some managed to escape with just bullet wounds, as they ran towards the by-lanes after hearing gunshots
All indications pointed to the fact that the PAC personnel were motivated to conduct this operation by a senior IPS officer who was manning the control room in the district.
“This particular officer wanted to administer a shock therapy to the Muslims, so they can mend their ways,” said a senior police officers involved with the investigation of the case. Even a cursory visit to Maliana proves beyond doubt that the wounds of the riots have not healed.
But what is particularly galling is the fact that justice is still eluding in both these cases. Only last year, a Delhi court exonerated all the 16 accused in the Hashimpura case after finding fault with the police investigation.
The court gave them the benefit of doubt and said that 'lack of evidence has failed to establish their identification in the case.' There were 19 accused in the case. However, three of them died during the trial.
Initially the state government ignored hue and cry by the media over this apparent “travesty of justice”. Later chief minister Akhilesh Yadav decided to appeal against the verdict.
In the Maliana case, which is nothing short of an extra-judicial execution of 73 Muslims by state agencies, the proceedings often progress at speeds that defy logic. It got stuck last year as the FIR registered by the state police was untraceable at the trial court in Lucknow. It is almost certain at this point that the prosecution would be delayed to the point of denying justice to the victims in their lifetime.
Ironically, Hashimpura and Maliana are not the only two cases that paint the conduct of the Indian polity as pulling wool over the eyes of obnoxious facets of society. In the eighties and the nineties, there were a series of riots in Bulandshahar, Ghaziabad, Gonda, Varanasi and Azamgarh in which the guilty were never punished. The state often colluded with criminals and allowed the justice to atrophy.
In such context, the conviction of the 24 accused in Gulbarg has partly, if not substantially, restored trust in the criminal justice system. Yet, cases like Hashimpura and Maliana are festering wounds that expose the morbidity of the Indian polity.
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