This is a story of Indian secularism. It’s a story you probably have not heard. Because it takes place in Rajiv Gandhi’s India, with a Congress Chief Minister in the saddle in Lucknow. Or as Ravish Kumar would have put it, back in the times when Baagon mein Bahaar thi.
The fateful day was May 22, 1987, and the place was Hashimpura, near Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. The town had been rocked by communal clashes over the last few days.
Then, on the night of May 22, some 19 police personnel from the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (UP-PAC) showed up in Hashimpura mohalla and ordered young Muslim men, 50 of them, into a truck. They were then taken to the Upper Ganga Canal and shot dead. One by one. Their bodies tossed into the water. 42 were declared dead.
42 human lives, citizens of India. Shot dead by the police force of their own state.
42 human beings marked for death, murdered by the state and forgotten by history. All in the service of the masters of Indian secularism.
It would seem unbelievable that the Uttar Pradesh government did not so much as order an inquiry into the incident until 1988. But it is true. Because Rajiv ji’s government already had a certificate of tolerance from the elites who mattered. Why would they need to prove their tolerance by ordering an inquiry into the murder of 42 people by their own state police?
So, what happened once the inquiry began? Well, nothing.
The first witness was called to testify before the court only in 2006! Nineteen years after the incident!
The verdict in the case came nine years later from a Delhi court on March 21, 2015: ALL sixteen accused policemen were acquitted. Three other accused policemen had died before the charges were even framed in the year 2006.
In his verdict, Additional Sessions Judge Sanjay Jindal explained: “I give them the benefit of the doubt due to insufficient evidence, particularly on the identification of the accused.” They were acquitted because twenty years after the incident took place, the witnesses failed to properly identify the accused.
Because the 42 people who died in Hashimpura were not hardened criminals like Sohrabuddin or Lashkar operatives like Ishrat Jahan. And more importantly, there was no BJP government to blame. How could India’s secular ecosystem blame the godly Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi or his Congress Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh in Lucknow?
The supreme irony of Indian secularism is that Muslim communities are much safer and better off under BJP rule. Liberals have an entire battery of lawyers, human rights activists and the like dedicated to identifying and publicizing atrocities, both real and imagined, on minority communities during BJP rule. When the Congress comes to power, this ecosystem conveniently goes on (paid?) vacation. This leaves Muslim minorities much more vulnerable than they were at any point under a BJP government.
Imagine for a moment, if the Uttar Pradesh police today, under Yogi Adityanath as CM and Narendra Modi as PM had committed an atrocity so horrifying as to take 42 Muslim men, shoot them dead and throw their bodies into the river, would the radio silence that ensued then, continue now? Would the ‘liberal’ community feign ignorance like they did then?
But the Dynasty remains blameless. The bloodsoaked hand is forever innocent. As Modi ji put it, “Maut aur kangress ko kabhi dosh nahin lagta“.
This travesty happens perhaps because the hand knows how to pick the fruit and feed it to those who claim to guard the garden of secularism. That’s why Baagon mein bahaar thi … jab Kangress ki sarkar thi.
They scrambled to save the life of Yakub Memon, they banged on the doors of the Supreme Court in the dead of the night. But to this very day, the waters of the Upper Ganga Canal flow silently over this injustice to 42 human beings, while the Congress party proudly flies the flag of secularism.
This story needs to echo through the ages. This story needs to reach a generation that knows not the roots of secularists and the brand of secularism practised by them. This story, the story of 42 human lives, lost to the pursuit of power needs to live on. Needs to be told. Needs to be heard. Needs to be remembered.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.