By Amba Charan Vashishth
It was a great news for many from many angles in the legal history of India.
According to the prosecution, Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel had come to village Hashimpura in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut district on May 22, 1987, and picked up about 50 Muslims as a congregation of 500 had gathered outside a mosque. 42 of them were found to be murdered.
It hardly matters to which community the victims belonged. What matters is that all the killed were human beings. Killing of any person of any caste, creed, sex or region is — and must be — condemned by all.
The saying “Justice delay is Justice denied” applies most appropriately to this case.
“The court has given benefit of doubt to the accused regarding their identification”, the special prosecutor explained, “and not regarding the incident”. “The fact that the court referred the case to Delhi Legal Service Authority for rehabilitation of the victims”, the prosecutor stressed, “shows that the incident is not in doubt.”
After 28 long years, though accused have been acquitted and a ray of smile appeared on their face, yet they have suffered a trauma for that long which is more or less the total length of service a public servant renders on duty. They could get no promotion which they would otherwise have earned in the normal course.
“I am satisfied that justice is finally done”, said the 59-year-old Niranjan, one of the persons acquitted. “We faced the trial for last 28 years. During this period I failed to do anything for my family and children. I was a head constable at the time of the alleged incident and I am going to retire soon and I am still a head constable.”
To the greatly disappointed families of the victims the acquittals were “unfortunate” and “denial of justice”. But Babuddin, one of the survivors and eyewitnesses to the incident, regretted that he could not recognize the PAC personnel in court as they were wearing helmets as two decades had passed since the carnage.
Both the prosecution and the defence agree that the gruesome murder did take place but the accused earned the “benefit of doubt”. In a way disappointment of the bereaved families is as much justified as is the satisfaction of the acquitted accused though for totally opposite reasons. But the villain is the system of criminal jurisprudence, its shortcomings and weaknesses.
If the accused were not guilty, who else was? Whose is it the duty to find the real culprits? The law has no answer. And this is the impotence of the system of law we follow. It amounts to commission of another crime in the shape of denial of justice to the victims and their families and punishment to the guilty.
Failure to punish guilty is a ‘crime’ law commits