Issues in Focus

Left high and dry

Print edition : June 26, 2015

Survivors of the Hashimpura massacre meeting Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow on May 19. Photo: PTI

The dependents of the victims of the Hashimpura massacre have been further disadvantaged by an uncaring State government, which has done little to alleviate their everyday struggles other than offering them measly sums of money as compensation.

ALMOST two decades after Zaibunissa’s husband, Mohammed Iqbal, the only breadwinner of the family, fell prey to the bullets of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), she heard that substantial relief, a sum of Rs.4.6 lakh, would be coming from the Uttar Pradesh government. This, however, was too little, too late. For the horrific custodial killings of Hashimpura in Meerut on May 22, 1987, are a saga not only of state brutality but of apathy: an uncaring State government has done little for the families who were almost left destitute after they lost their breadwinners. The PAC, a reserved police force of the State government, abducted and killed 42 persons, all of them Muslims.

In January 2007, the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (S.P.) government announced a compensation package, but this did little to compensate for the loss of livelihood or ensure a life of dignity for those affected families. Also, the money was awarded to the extended families of the people murdered, according to the principles of the Muslim personal law of inheritance. This ensured that the share of widows and their children was reduced considerably. Following the incident, the Uttar Pradesh government had given the victims’ families twice in 1987 the measly sum of Rs.20,000 each.

These struggling families got no help after that. It is only recently, on May 21, that Akhilesh Yadav, the present Chief Minister, announced a compensation package of Rs.5 lakh each for the families of those killed in the Hashimpura massacre. The announcement came after some of the survivors of the massacre met S.P. chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. The modalities of the compensation scheme are not clear yet.

Problems of compensation

Also, on May 21, Harsh Bora, an advocate, filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court on behalf of the families of the victims demanding that the Delhi Legal Services Authority award the survivors and the families of the dead enhanced compensation in a time-bound manner. Highlighting the problems with the trial court’s compensation scheme, he said: “The Delhi Victim Compensation Scheme, 2011, followed by the Delhi Legal Services Authority at present to award compensation does not have a separate category for communal violence. Under this scheme, an award to the survivors of the violence can only be made for rehabilitation, which is a measly sum of Rs.20,000. Thus, the scheme needs to be amended to create a separate category for victims of communal violence. In the petition, we have also raised the demand for an enhanced compensation amount.”

The distribution of compensation the State government announced is also problematic. Five of the persons killed were migrant workers from other parts of Uttar Pradesh and from Bihar. Hence, it was difficult to trace their families when the first substantial amount of compensation was given out in 2007.

Zulfikar Nasir, one of the survivors, who has been at the forefront of the legal battle for justice, said: “Some of the family members of these persons had made it to Meerut then but could not be awarded compensation as their address could not be verified by the State government.”

Now, the government has initiated a process of verification of the surviving family members of these persons. Sanjeev Sharma, the government official in charge of this process, said: “Earlier, in 2007, the compensation was distributed to the families of 36 people. The families of three of the deceased could not be traced. At present, I am trying to collect information about the surviving family members of five deceased persons, which will then be sent to officers at the district level for verification. The compensation amount can only be awarded once we are sure that these are indeed the family members of the deceased.” On being asked about the anomalies in the distribution of compensation in 2007, Sharma said he had no idea about how the compensation would be divided this time around.

Zulfikar said that the five migrant workers whose families were outside Meerut were Munna Ladiya and Shakir of Bijnor, Hanif of Rewari in Bihar and Mohammad Azeem and Kauser Ali of Dhamsain village in Bihar. Zulfikar said that the other demands made at the meeting with the S.P. chief included getting the Gyan Prakash Committee report on the Hashimpura carnage, which was submitted in 1994, tabled in the Assembly and probing the lapses of the officers of the Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department who were involved in the preliminary investigation of the incident. Zulfikar said that no other political party had reached out to the victims of Hashimpura so far. The residents said that the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, Laxmi Kant Bajpai, who is also the party’s State president, had not visited Hashimpura after the verdict.

Households headed by women who were left destitute by this tragedy continue to face severe financial woes. That night of police firing has had a cascading effect on generations of people: children had to drop out of school to take up odd jobs to sustain themselves and have grown up to be adults who do not have access to a decent livelihood. Some women have fought on in the face of adversity with help from local charitable organisations. But help from the State government has not been forthcoming.

The plight of 58-year-old Zaibunissa is a case in point. Her daughters were still in school at the time of the firing. Her youngest daughter, Uzma, was born on the day of the incident. After her husband’s death, she started sewing and making garments on a daily-wage basis. The initial award of Rs.20,000 was of little help. Because the money given in 2007 was awarded to the extended family, the combined share of Zaibunissa and her three daughters only came to about Rs.3 lakh. The rest of the money was divided between her brothers-in-law and their sons and daughters, that is, the sum of Rs.4.6 lakh was divided among 13 persons.

Zaibunissa protested against this government move. She said: “My brothers-in-law never came to my help when I was bringing up three children alone. Why should they get a share of the compensation? This is not family property but money given by the state. I protested against this division, but none of them were ready to give up their share. This is unfair and there’s nothing Islamic about it. I even approached the qazi at Deoband to issue a fatwa [legal opinion] against this division but nothing came of it.” She spent her meagre share in paying off debts. Zaibunissa said: “We never got a BPL [below poverty level] card, ration card or old age pension. I could not educate my children beyond school and had to marry them off.”

According to the basic principle of Sunni law of intestate succession, there are 12 heirs among whom the property is divided, including the wife, brother, sister and daughter, and the wife is entitled to only one-eighth of the net estate. The State government seems to have followed this formula when it gave the compensation even though this principle in classical Sunni doctrine has undergone several reforms in successive years. According to the government notification that detailed the distribution of compensation on January 15, 2007, a total amount of Rs.1.97 crore was given to the families of those killed. Frontline has accessed a copy of this order. The distribution of the amount following archaic principles of Islamic law worked to the disadvantage of the real victims (see table). (According to Muslim Family Law by David Pearl and Werner Menski (1998), in some Muslim countries laws of inheritance award the wife a larger share. In Somalia, men and women are now on an equal footing in matters of inheritance.)

The far-reaching effects of the tragedy on the lives of the victims’ families can be gauged from the immense hardships some of them have faced. Mohammad Shakeel was only eight years old when he lost his eldest brother, Naeem. Naeem used to run a small bookbinding factory and was the sole breadwinner of the family of 10 brothers and sisters as their father had passed away. After Naeem’s death, the factory shut down. Shakeel recounted how he had to give up school and take up all sorts of odd jobs to make a living: “I used to earn Rs.2 a day at a sugarcane stall. I then started training as a tailor for about two years. After that, I learnt woodwork and furniture making.” In fact, all his siblings had to stop their education midway. The 2007 compensation money merely helped them pay off the pending water tax and house tax and loans. Also, the brothers got a larger share than the sisters. Each brother got a sum of Rs.85,184, whereas each sister’s share was Rs.25,556. Naeem’s 80-year-old mother, Noorjehan, only got a sum of Rs.76,667, a lower share than that awarded to the brothers. Shakeel felt that the compensation was inadequate and had come too late in the day. “A government job for one person in every family of the victims would have been a much more useful approach,” he said.

For Hanifa, 65 now, the sudden death of her husband, Mohammed Usman, jolted her from a life of relative affluence into one of enormous struggle. Usman owned four power loom machines and made a decent living making garments. After his death, Hanifa had to sell off the machines to fend for her three sons and three daughters. The Rs.90,000 the machines fetched her ran out soon. All the children had to be pulled out of school. They started working as daily-wage labourers in garment-making units.

Hanifa used the 2007 compensation money to marry off two of her sons. But there is no end in sight to her financial woes. The family lives in a decrepit 60-year-old house with a tin roof and paint coming off from the walls. About 11 people live in this house comprising two tiny rooms and a small courtyard. “The house hasn’t been repaired in years,” Hanifa said.

Her eldest son, 32-year-old Mohammed Nazim, continues to work as a daily-wage labourer in garment-making units. “Work is erratic and I can barely make Rs.4,000 to Rs.5,000 a month. I don’t have enough money to start my own business. The lack of a formal education limits job opportunities,” he said.

Anjum, 43, has felt the impact of this massacre on several levels. Her father-in-law, Mohammed Naseem, and her brother-in-law Mohammed Jameel were both killed in the massacre. Her husband, Mohammad Saleem, who had been doing the rounds of the courts in the hope of getting justice, killed himself out of a sense of despair in 2013. The 2007 compensation money was spent in buying power loom machines to set up a factory. But these had to be sold off after his death. Anjum runs a family hardware shop in the face of opposition from other members of the joint family. She said that the shop did not have an electricity connection, but she still manages to run it in the sweltering summer heat. She is bringing up her five daughters and two sons with the meagre income generated from the shop and with help from some local charity organisations. The local school where one of her daughters studies has waived the tuition fee. Her eldest daughter goes to college now. But there was no help from the State government. She lives with her children and her mother-in-law, Naseeban, in a one-room house with a small courtyard, a part of a two-storey ancestral house shared by four families.

Her father-in-law used to work at the municipal corporation in Meerut. But her mother-in-law never got a pension after his death.

The death of Zaheer Ahmed and his son Javed plunged his wife, Zareena, 65, into a state of despondency from which she has not recovered. Ahmed used to work as an embroiderer.

After his death, Zareena had to bring up her nine children all by herself. She found work from time to time in garment-making units. The compensation money which she received in 2007 was spent in marrying off her four daughters. While the arduous fight for justice was being played out in the courts, the dependents of the Hashimpura massacre victims were further disadvantaged by an uncaring State government, which did little to alleviate their everyday struggles other than offering them measly sums of money as compensation. One night of police brutality has impacted generations of people who still struggle to make a decent living.

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