New Delhi: The massacre of 42 young Muslims at Hashimpura in Uttar Pradesh in 1987 was masterminded by some police and civilian officials, says a former senior police officer in a new book.
Vibhuti Narain Rai also says that the crime could not have been committed if the killers had not been assured by "a very senior officer or some powerful politician" that they could get away with it.
Rai was the Superintendent of Police in Ghaziabad, where Hashimpura was located, and was the first to uncover that the massacre was the work of a rogue unit within the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC).
The cold-blooded murders took place in an isolated part of Ghaziabad district bordering Delhi on the night of May 22, 1987 when Meerut, not far away, was in the grip of communal violence.
In his just released book "Hashimpura 22 May" (Penguin), Rai says there have been references "of some mysterious meetings on 21 and 22 May where all the top civil and police officers of Meerut were present along with some army officials.
"I have reason to believe that it was in one of these key meetings that the two groups - those who would identify the victims and those who would execute them - were finalized."
Rai, who broke the news of the massacre to then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Veer Bahadur Singh, recalls that soldiers, CRPF, PAC and police dragged 600 to 700 people from Hashimpura in Meerut from their homes.
Of this, 40 to 45 young men were picked, pushed into a PAC truck (URU 1493), driven to a canal near Makanpur village along the Delhi-Ghaziabad border and shot dead one by one by 19 PAC men.
The bodies were then pushed into the canal. Unknown to the killers, a handful survived the massacre and helped Rai and his police force to stitch together the gruesome saga when they reached the spot at night.
This came to be known as the "Hashimpura massacre". Rai calls it "the countr`s biggest custodial killing after independence".
Rai, who joined the Indian Police Service in 1975 and served it for 36 years, says the CID that was asked to probe the killings ended up siding with the killers.
"I have no hesitation in saying that right from the day the investigation began, the CID was engaged in a virtual mission to save the culprits. The investigation`s focus was not on proving the charges against the accused but to botch up the inquiry and create such confusing circumstances that no court would have been able to pronounce them guilty."
Indeed, 28 long years later, all the accused were acquitted by a court for lack of evidence. By then, Platoon Commander Surendra Pal Singh, "the man behind the carnage" as Rai says, was already dead.
Looking back, Rai feels that murder charge should have been immediately slapped against the guilty PAC personnel, the truck into which the victims were stuffed should have been quickly seized and the weapons held by the guilty PAC men should have been confiscated.
Winner of the Indian Police Medal for Meritorious Services and the President`s Police Medal for Distinguished Services, Rai says the conduct of the army during the Meerut riots of 1987 "was a breach of their official boundaries and a gross violation of the laws of the country".
According to him, when the PAC seized the Muslims at Hashimpura, the area was under army control.
The book says: "Hashimpura is not just one instance that can be summarily dismissed. Hashimpura is a phenomenon that goes deep into the mindset of the Indian society - a mindset that leads to communal violence."
He says that the mindset of police and administrative officials was often deeply anti-Muslim. "Most police officials and magistrates refer to Hindus as `us` and to Muslims as `them`.
"It is not surprising that communal riots in India often happen between the Muslims and police, and not versus the Hindus."
Rai adds: "Hashmpura was an integral part of this design, to show the Muslims their place."