Imagine spending a lifetime clinging to every moment of your worst nightmare, zealously preserving each detail to memory because it is the only shot at justice. Zulfikar Nasir has been trapped in this hell for 28 years. On May 22, 1987, 42 men from Hashimpura near Meerut were rounded up by the Army and the Provincial Armed Constabulary, shot and dumped into the Hindon canal. Nasir is one of the five who survived to tell the tale. Again and again.
The wheels of justice proverbially move slowly. But, for Hashimpura, they have barely moved an inch. The charge-sheet was filed in 1996, against 19 people. The case was moved to the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi in 2002 after an appeal in the Supreme Court, where it became the longest case pending in Delhi’s trial court history. Case files were lost in the transfer. The investigating officer died. Only in 2006 was the case finally heard by a Delhi court.
Earlier this year, the trial court let off 16 accused―three of the accused had died―giving them benefit of the doubt “due to insufficient evidence”. “No one in the locality ate the day the court acquitted the accused,’’ says Nasir. “It seemed impossible that we could have lost. But there is no way that we can let it go. The fight has to go on.” Nasir and the other four survivors of the extra-judicial execution have spent years going back and forth to court, coming face to face with those who shot them. “We sat opposite them,’’ says Nasir. “We never spoke to them.”
With the case in appeal again, life has come full circle for Nasir, 45, who was in high school when he was arrested. Meerut had been tense for a few months, but Hashimpura had been peaceful. Yet, the Army and PAC ordered the men in his neighbourhood to come out of their houses. “The policemen told us that there was going to be a meeting to keep peace. We all trooped out,’’ he says. “We weren’t worried or scared. Why did we need to be?’’
The men were lined up and put into trucks. Nasir found himself in the last truck, which had 50 people. “We drove out for a long while. We had our heads down. Then the truck came to a halt,” he says. Next to the canal, the men were ordered out. “First they shot Asraf, my neighbour. I was third,’’ says Nasir. The bullet grazed his arm and he fell. Later, he was thrown into the canal along with the others. “I survived because I held on to the reeds growing on the edge of the river. I kept my nose above water and waited for nightfall,” he says
The staggering weight of the years has taken a toll on Nasir’s rather frail body. The routine of everyday life―the screeching of his parrot Sultan and the sound of children playing―signals that life has moved on, but Nasir hasn't. “The delay in the court is an attempt to break us,’’ he says. “That we would die or lose interest. But we haven’t. These were my friends. I grew up with them. We played together. How will I face them if I don’t try and get the people responsible for their death punished?’’
Names have been changed.