What is, and is not, common between Maliana and Srebrenicatext_fields
One way to cope with the agony of Hashimpur-Maliana is to look around the debris we stand on. There is that heartwarming figure of the tall (in every sense of the term) IPS officer, Vibhuti Narain Rai, Superintendent of Police in Ghaziabad all those 35 years ago.
On hearing that the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) had picked up 50 young men, in a truck, carried them to the Gang canal, shot them and thrown the bodies in the canal for easy disposal, Rai rushed to the scene and shouted. “Is anyone there?” groans of one Babuddin, the accidental survivor, gave Rai an opening for investigation. After doggedly searching into all the circumstances, Rai spotted a shaft of light. Justice Murlidhar found 16 PAC men guilty, deserving life sentences.
So, it is not that a few good men pitted against state impunity do not make a difference. There is always enough humanity around us which pitches its tents against the horrors like those of Hashimpura and Maliana.
Social activist, Nandita Haksar, lawyers Vrinda Grover, Rebecca John and Colin Gonsalves have played exceptional roles. There are countless others. Umpteen journalists with Sankarshan Thakur and Qurban Ali in the vanguard, who have followed the case doggedly and not without success.
Remembering Hashimpura and Maliana in today’s atmosphere of anti Muslim impunity by the BJP, can cause an almost deliberate amnesia if you happen to be in the ranks of secularists. “Please don’t pile up blame against the Congress” they implore. “It will only embolden the BJP to greater impunity.” So, what do we do?
How does one alter the calendar? The ghastly events took place when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister; the Congress had Bir Bahadur Singh as Chief Minister of UP. Did the PAC go berserk on its own, or it received a signal from someone higher up to teach Muslims a lesson. Who was this higher up? We have the doubtful testimony of Subramanian Swamy in the Rajya Sabha. He points the finger at Minister of State for Internal Security P. Chidambaram.
During Shab-e-barat fireworks, a fire cracker hit a constable on duty who, as a kneejerk reaction, shot dead two Muslims. This ignited riots of a fiercely communal nature in April.
Violence which continued for over a month were, actually, clashes between two communities – not one sided pogroms which became the vogue later.
A pre-condition for riots is communalism in the air. Rajiv Gandhi’s cohorts had filled the cauldron with every communal ingredient and allowed it to boil over. One does not have to go back to the “Hindu” in the Congress DNA. Well, for a flavour, take this one example. In his memoirs, A Life of Our Times, Rajeshwar Dayal, ICS, records an incident when he was the first Home Secretary of Uttar Pradesh. One day he and his police commissioner, turned up at Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant’s residence with a trunk full of evidence against RSS Chief Guru Golwalkar. Guruji, according to the evidence in Dayal’s possession, was planning widespread disturbances in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and other parts of Western UP. Dayal thought Pant would be pleased with the catch. Pant placed a huge dampener on Dayal’s initiative. He said the cabinet will have to consider the sensitive issue. Meanwhile Guruji was allowed to escape.
Although rioting in Meerut erupted on a small scale in April, 1987, tensions in the area were high soon after Rajiv Gandhi opened the locks of the Ram Temple, leaving the BJP far behind in the Ram Mandir stakes. Kamal Nath as his sidekick, crowed with amplifiers on. “We have taken the first initiative to build a Ram Mandir.” As soon as the Mandir issue was brought into bold relief, Babari Masjid came into focus as a target. Competitive Ram Bhakti took over.
About the same time, the Shah Bano judgement granting maintenance to a Muslim divorcee, caused the Muslim clergy to see red. With consummate cowardice Rajiv Gandhi’s men rolled back the judgement in Parliament. If the charge of appeasement of Muslim was ever valid, this was that occasion.
Topsy-turvy decisions involving Mandir, Masjid, Muslim Personal Law gave a handle to communal forces. Communal flames were stoked.
The tit-for-tat clashes in Meerut took a toll of 50 or so lives. It was then that someone in government took the decision to call in the notoriously communal PAC and let it loose on the Muslim mohallas. And what a job the force did – lined up men by the Ganga canal and shot them dead. Headlights of a Mother Dairy van were mistaken by the PAC as their pursuers. In panic they clambered onto these trucks and accelerated towards Hindon River on UP-Delhi border. The petrified Muslims were off loaded – and summarily shot and thrown in the river.
At least a handful of PAC murderers of Hashimpura have received sentences. But the widows of Maliana, (those who have not died a natural death) must wait for justice in a continuous daze. More than three decades and 900 hearings after the massacre in which 72 Muslims were killed, all 39 accused have been acquitted.
A daughter of ours, then a reporter in her early 20s, covered Maliana. The memory still haunts her. I was in Zagreb during the Bosnian war in 1994-95 when a posse of armed Serbs rounded up 8,000 young and able bodied Bosnian Muslims at the village of Srebrenica. Lined them up, shot them and buried them in mass graves. Dutch Peace Keeping Forces nearby took no notice.
The difference between Srebrenica and Maliana is this: Srebrenica massacre, though on a larger scale, was heard by the International Court of Justice within a decade of the ghastly events. The guilty were punished. An elegant Srebrenica memorial in nearby Potocari sends shivers down the spine. By contrast the families of the victims of Maliana have already waited 36 years for justice. Appeals in higher courts will be as lengthy, and for how long? Ultimately, as Groucho Marx said, we are all dead –– in this case, without justice.