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Forgotten but not by a father
- 27 YEARS, ZERO VOTE

Jamaluddin Ansari can’t remember how many times he has visited Delhi’s Tis Hazari courts these past 27 years. He remembers the number of times he has voted during this period, though.

Zero times.

“Who shall I vote for; who thinks about us?” said the 75-year-old grocer, whose son Qamaruddin, 22, was among 42 young Muslims rounded up from this city’s Hashimpura locality and allegedly shot by police on May 22, 1987, during riots in Meerut.

Thirty-six died and six escaped with injuries. Another 200 to 250 young men —including Ansari’s youngest son Raizuddin, then only 17 — were picked up and allegedly tortured in custody.

All the 16 surviving accused, who were new recruits to the state police’s Provincial Armed Constabulary and are still in service, are out on bail and the case is dragging on.

“Maybe 1,000 times; maybe 5,000 times,” Ansari says, talking of his countless trips to court in Delhi, 70km away. “Initially, the parents of the other victims would come with me, but now I go alone. I attend every hearing.”

“Everybody talks about the Gujarat violence. But if those riots happened under BJP rule, then this happened under a Congress government, like the Moradabad riots,” Raizuddin, a tailor, said.

“Now the Samajwadi Party government has shown its true colours in Muzaffarnagar. Who do we vote for?”

Hindus live cheek by jowl with their majority Muslim neighbours in dingy Hashimpura — a maze of alleys connected to the main city road by a single narrow lane. The locality is almost hidden behind a row of shops opposite a closed theatre.

Most Muslim families in Hashimpura have not voted since the massacre, Raizuddin said.

“We are just vote banks for the political parties. Since we don’t vote, no one has turned up to campaign. When our children grow up, I don’t know if I shall have the strength to encourage them to vote.”

Nineteen cops had allegedly taken their 42 hostages in a truck to Murad Nagar in Ghaziabad district, 34km away, shot them, dumped them in canals and driven off. Half-a-dozen survivors climbed out or were rescued. The bodies of the rest floated up a few days later.

“Many of those killed were children and the survivors didn’t even know how to get home,” said Ansari.

The Ghaziabad court began issuing summons to the accused in 1992 but they only surrendered in May 2000, after pressure built from the public and the media. By then, three of the accused had died.

In 2002, the Supreme Court transferred the trial to a sessions court in Delhi’s Tis Hazari complex, where it is one of the oldest pending cases.

When the massacre happened, Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister and Vir Bahadur Singh the Congress chief minister in Lucknow. Since then, the Congress has never returned to power in Uttar Pradesh.

The families of the dead and survivors have filed 615 Right to Information Act applications since 2006 to the state police chief’s office in Lucknow. Bit by bit, they have ferreted out little details relevant to the case — such as police postings that day, or which local Muslims were accused of inciting riots by Hindu neighbours and who weren’t.

One of the RTI applications dug out a nugget: the accused policemen’s annual confidential reports do not mention the charges against them.

The case has been fast-tracked but the hearings take place once in two or three months. Most of the accused don’t attend the hearings, Ansari said.

“Earlier, we used to book cars and carry placards and banners to court. But slowly people started losing hope and now it’s only me and some others who go to court regularly. Even I’m losing hope. I’m an old man, how long can I continue doing this?” Ansari said.

Mohammad Usman, a vegetable vendor and one of the six survivors, said he hadn’t voted since 1987 and didn’t intend starting now.

“Why should I talk to anyone? Has talking about it helped me?” said Usman, whose injuries have given him a permanently disabled leg.

Babuddin, a powerloom worker, was just 17 when he was shot in the chest and armpits. He travels to his native Bihar every election year to cast his vote in Darbhanga.

“They separated the healthy, educated boys and took us to be shot. I survived because I pretended to be dead. It’s perhaps easier for me to vote because the incident didn’t happen in my home state,” Babuddin said.

“Can you imagine what it’s like waiting for justice for 27 years? Ninety-two witnesses have deposed and we still don’t have a judgment yet.”

Asked which party he expected to win from Meerut this time, Ansari didn’t hesitate for a moment. “The BJP. The Hindus will all vote for the BJP and the Muslim vote will get divided.”

The Congress has never fielded a Muslim from Meerut after 1994, when Mohsina Kidwai lost her second election on the trot from the constituency.

Its current candidate, actress Nagma, is contesting on the secularism plank, hoping to bag a share of the city’s 30 per cent Muslim votes. The BJP’s Rajendra Agarwal won the seat by around 47,000 votes last time.

Ansari is banking on Babuddin to carry on the court trips in future.

But Babuddin said: “I don’t know how long I can do this. Slowly, even I’m losing hope. Will I continue to vote? I don’t know. Maybe I will, if I can keep the hope alive within me.”

Meerut votes on April 10