It is a travesty of justice. The court has let off all the 16 policemen, belonging to the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh on the lack of evidence. It was dark and it was difficult to determine who from among the policemen fired at whom, says the court. Apparently, no real hard work was done to conduct the inquiry and fix responsibility. Yet how were the 16 accused separated from the rest in the first instance? Some criteria would have been adopted to reach the verdict.
In fact, the happening reminded one of the Jalianwala Bagh tragedies. At that time, the British officers blocked the only route of exit and killed nearly 1,000 demonstrators demanding independence. At Harhimpura, too, the five lanes where Muslims lived had no rear exit, so there was no escape route.
The army was also searching every house. Muslim men, old, young and children were coming on to the road with their hands raised. Women were on the rooftops, crying, begging the PAC to let go of their men. One top Army official has rightly demanded an inquiry.
True, the court had to let off all the accused. The killings cannot, however, be wished away. Naturally, the people are generally appalled over the acquittal of the accused PAC personnel. The families of those killed feel let down because, if only the perpetrators had been punished, they would have got some sort of justice.
By letting off the accused, without ordering a fresh probe or taking the police to task, the court may have done anything but serving the ends of justice. The case is yet another example to testify that the police do not go whole hog in pursuing an inquiry when it comes to its own force’s involvement. If even after 28 years of investigation, the police have failed to produce before the court admissible evidence it is time to reassess the effectiveness of police. The cover up is obvious. I wish the court had commented on that.
Granted the law and order is a state’s responsibility under the constitution, but the central government is equally responsible for peace in the country. It was incumbent upon New Delhi to have appointed an inquiry committee from its side so that the witnesses, who are telling the media their plight, can be asked to testify before it. The larger question that the Hashimpura episode has posed is the lack of recourse when the police drag their feet and when the accusing finger is directed at the force itself.
The overall control of the Union Home Ministry has not worked effectively. State chief ministers do not care about its behests even if the same party is ruling in the state as well as at the centre. Reforms proposed by the Dharamveer Commission some 39 years ago are accumulating dust in the states which were asked to implement them. The commission’s main recommendation was that the states should have a supervisory body, including the leader of the opposition, to keep an eye on the appointments and transfers of officers from SHOs and above. However, the commission’s sole motive was how to separate the state from politics.
State chief minister did not agree to the proposal. Today, they interfere even in the appointment of a thana (police station) in charge. They want their own loyal officers in such positions so that they could make a telephone call to them directly, as they do, to influence the investigation of cases against the men of their party or even acquaintances.
It is too farcical an argument that the system is to blame. The system cannot override the wishes of people. In a democracy, it ultimately depends on the representatives they return to the state legislatures and parliament. However, no consensus emerges even there because the institutions have become politicized.
In such a scenario, the judiciary is the only institution still enjoys respect. If the police were put under its supervision, the force may act more independently than it is doing now. The police may find that the political interference is not there. It does amount to running away from the problem than finding a solution. But in the prevailing political climate, there is little scope for anything working independently.
It is disconcerting that things have come to such a pass. Unfortunately, even by persisting with the status quo the system is not functioning properly. A new experiment is required. The police force under the judiciary may turn out to be a better experiment with commitment than the options we have at present.
The Shah Commission, which went into the excesses of the emergency, came to the sad conclusion that the police had become an instrument of tyranny in the hands of rulers. The force carried out illegal orders and went out of the way to execute what the political masters wanted.
The same type of obedience is visible now that the details of the Babri masjid destruction are coming out. The police were willingly cooperating with the Kalyan Singh government which was, despite the Supreme Court’s order to maintain status quo, determined to destroy the masjid. It is encouraging to see that the apex court has issued notices to the top leaders of the BJP like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, to explain their involvement in the entire happening.
The BJP leaders would have to explain how far months they recruited kar sevaks, collected funds and carried out the destruction act at Ayodhya. It is sad that even after 23 years, there is no plausible explanation how the police were effete to enforce the law and order. True, the history of the PAC is too well known as it had come to be influenced by religion and even built temples at the thanas. There was not even a word of reprimand and it was obvious that the top brass itself was contaminated. But what good is salt if it has lost is flavor?