On the night of May 22, 1987, Hashimpura Mohalla in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh was under a military-style siege. The Muslim locality had been surrounded by the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary, an armed police force notorious for either aiding or directly participating in anti-Muslim violence in the state.

The PAC forced everyone in Hashimpura out of their homes and conducted a search of all the houses, presumably for weapons. Many residents allege that during this search their houses were ransacked. Then, the PAC lined up all the able-bodied men of Hashmipura on the main road. Of these, 42 were forced to get on to police lorries. Another set of 324 men were taken away via other police vehicles.

The massacre

Of the 42, only six made it out alive that night. One of the survivors of that group of 42, Zulfikar told Scroll.in that the truck was taken to a nearby canal, the Ganga Canal, and the PAC shot dead the Muslims inside the truck and threw their bodies into the canal. “They shot at me too and threw me into the canal, taking me for dead,” said Zulfikar.

The other group of 324 were taken the police station in Civil Lines, tortured and then subsequently shifted in batches to Meerut and Fatehgarh jail. Five people died as a result of this.

The next day, the PAC attacked the village of Maliana, 10 km west of Meerut. Here their methods were a bit more direct: rather than making any arrests, they simply opened fire on an unarmed crowd, killing around 30 Muslims. This was not a new tactic: in 1980, in Moradabad, the PAC had opened fire on a crowd of namaazis on Eid day.

State cover-up

Even by Indian standards, where mass violence is rather common, the Hashimpura massacre stands out for its brutality. The police, never known for their impartiality, this time seemed to have crossed all boundaries, attacking and massacring Muslims directly.

The state government did what all governments do when they want to do nothing: they set up a commission of enquiry, headed by Gian Prakash, former comptroller and auditor general of India. As soon as the commission submitted its findings, though, the state government froze it. What action did the state government take against the PAC personnel? Nothing. It didn’t even suspend them as they were being charged for mass murder. In fact, it even promoted a few.

Legal action was also predictably slow. The first time a court framed charges against the accused was in 2006, 19 years after the incident. Unsurprisingly, the case fell through on lack of evidence. On Saturday, a Delhi court acquitted all 16 policemen accused in the massacre.

In these times of secular versus communal, it is interesting to recount that the Chief Minister at the time of the massacre was Vir Bahadur Singh, an old time Congressman whose history of political service stretches back to the Quit India movement. Who was the Prime Minister? Nehru-Gandhi scion, Rajiv Gandhi. In a scene that maybe perfectly encapsulates the irony of the “secular” Congress, India Today reported that days before the Hashimpura massacre, Rajiv Gandhi had addressed the press, while at an iftar party, telling them that he would visit Meerut soon to help calm tempers. Significantly, that visit never materialised and a few days later, under the Congress state government's watch, the PAC went on rampage.

Congress role

The Meerut riots of 1987 itself were sparked off by the opening of the Babri Masjid structure to Hindu worshipers in 1986. The order was passed by a Faizabad district judge predicated on the report of the District Magistrate, who claimed that reopening the structure would not lead to any law and order problems (a somewhat inaccurate reading, in hindsight: the chain of events that this would set off would lead to thousands of deaths across the country). Not only did the Congress ensure that the locks were opened, it saw to it that television cameras captured the moment when Hindu worshipers entered the structure. Mass media relayed this “triumph” across the country, with the Congress presuming it would benefit from the Hindu vote as a result. This was a miscalculation, of course, and it was the Bharatiya Janata Party which would profit from this consolidated Hindu vote bank, not the Congress, but full points for trying.

While particularly egregious, the Hashmipura massacre is not out of the ordinary for the Congress. The three largest riots in India since 1967 – 1984 Delhi, 1983 Nellie-Assam and 1980 Moradabad – have all occurred under Congress rule. In the Mumbai riots of 1992-93, the partisan role of the Congress-controlled police force is described in detail in the Srikrishna Commission report.

So-called secular politics

Even after the rise of the BJP, sections of which at least are seen as openly hostile to Muslims, the Congress’ attitude hasn’t changed all that much. In Maharashtra, in 2013 when the state had a Congress government, 31% of the state’s prison population was Muslim, compared to 20% for all of India. Unsurprisingly, custodial murders in Congress-ruled Maharashtra were also directed at Muslims. It seems the situation is the same with other self-styled secular parties. When it came to covering up for Hashimpura, Shahnawaz Alam, of the Rihai Manch, an organisation dedicated to communal harmony in Uttar Pradesh, told Scroll.in that the Samajwadi Party was just as culpable as the Bharatiya Janta Party or the Congress in covering up Hashimpura.

This is a curious situation. The Muslim vote is crucial to self-proclaimed secular parties. But that vote rarely gets the community a voice in the corridors of power. Far from power, the vote can’t even stop mass violence directed at Muslims. In many ways, this situation is analogous to Congress-Dalit relationship till the 1980s where the scheduled castes were a dumb vote bank to to be tapped at will by the upper-caste Congress. This arrangement collapsed in places like Uttar Pradesh, of course, with the rise of Dalit parties. In fact, one of the most popular slogans during the the Kanshi Ram era was,”Vote humara raj tumhara, nahin chalega nahin chalega” (we vote and you rule, this will not do).

With “secular” parties on the wane, events like Hashimpura still fresh in everyone’s minds and the Dalit precedent, it would be interesting to see how the Muslim vote moves in the next decade or so.