It was May 22, 1987. The Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) along with the Army had surrounded Hashimpura, a settlement in Meerut. The five lanes where Muslims lived had no rear exit, so there was no escape route.
The Army was 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.
Amid all this horror there was one house where Muslims were safe. Tilak Ram’s humble place sheltered over 12 Muslims, including many who had no idea what was happening in the by-lanes.
When some of their fellow community members were herded into a yellow PAC truck, only to be murdered in cold blood in the next few hours, about 12 people managed to save their lives.
“Thankfully, the Army didn’t search our house. There were about 12 people who stayed with us on that terrible day, May 22,” says Ram, in his late sixties now.
The twelve people left Ram’s house only after the curfew was relaxed. Nayeemuddin, one of them, is all praise for Ram.
“He not only saved people’s lives but became a symbol of Hindu-Muslim amity,” he says.
A Delhi court on March 21, 2015 >acquitted all 16 accused in the 28-year-old case. All the acquitted are former personnel of the PAC.
Massacre shattered syncretic culture, says neighbour
Ram’s house, which provided sanctuary to 12 Muslims during the PAC-Army search at Hashimpura in 1987, was not a pucca one then but just brick walls covered by an asbestos sheet. It is located right at the front portion of Hashimpura and welcomes anybody visiting what has become now largely a Muslim ghetto. But that was not the situation before May 1987. Many more Hindus used to stay in Hashimpura.
The riots and communal tension due to the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid row, and the massacre changed the demography of Hashimpura, says Sher Ali, a tailor master whose shop ‘Gulmarg tailors’, is next to Ram’s house.
Sitting next to his neighbour on a flat wooden charpoy, Ali, with a big picture of goddess Kaali in the background, talks about the history of Hashimpura.
“What used to be a live example of ganga-jamuni tehzeeb, syncretic Indian culture, gradually turned into a ghetto which came to stand for victimhood of the minority community and its constant search for justice for the massacre of 42 innocent people,” says Ali, while remembering the “good old days” when people didn’t use to be Hindu or Muslim but “friends” whose “houses and hearts” were always open for each other.
Ram, who sacrificed a goat for his favourite goddess Kali on Ramnavami on Saturday became nostalgic. “It was fun to live in those times. Ali and me belong to those times and feel a bit suffocated now,” he gestures towards Ali. Together they looked like a rare specimen from the past. “There was no question of any conflict. Muslims and Hindus used to be religious but not intolerant.”
“ Satasi ke kaand ne sab kucch badal diya, ham sabke liye . (The massacre of 1987 changed our lives, lives of both Muslims and Hindus,” he says.)
“There used to be religious clashes and communal riots but then things used to calm down. But the massacre of 1987 shook Muslims from inside and even the slightest of tension used to scare us,” says Ali, a man in his early sixties.
When this correspondent begins to take leave, Ram says, “My father Jas Ram was born here and died here. I was born here and I will die here only, as a resident of Hashimpura.”
Ram has a visitor: Sanjay also a resident of Hashimpura, in one of its inner by-lanes. He was just four when the massacre happened. He is happy that his father chose not to leave the area unlike his fellow community members after 1987. He says the situation is not as bad as people think. His best friend is Babu Khan.
“Hatred is in people’s minds and not in their hearts,” he remarks, indicating that all is not lost in Hashimpura.