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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 July 2024

Meerut killings: 34-year battle for justice

The trial has been on in a sessions court for over three decades and more than 800 “dates” have been given but there’s been no justice yet

Qurban Ali Published 23.05.21, 01:35 AM
The sister of Mohsin Ahmad, a labourer who was shot and killed allegedly in police firing, outside her home in Meerut.

The sister of Mohsin Ahmad, a labourer who was shot and killed allegedly in police firing, outside her home in Meerut. File photo

May 23, 2021, is the 34th anniversary of the killing of 72 Muslims in Meerut’s Maliana village, allegedly by the notorious Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh.

The trial has been on in a Meerut sessions court for over three decades and more than 800 “dates” have been given but there’s been no justice yet. The last hearing took place four years ago.

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Petitioners who have moved Allahabad High Court seeking a reinvestigation and speedy trial say key documents, including the FIR, have disappeared. On April 19 this year, the high court directed the Uttar Pradesh government to respond.

The Maliana massacre, however, was not an isolated event. It was part of weeks of rioting in Meerut between April and June 1987 that, according to government estimates, killed 174 people while unofficial studies and reports suggest the figure was about 350.

The killings included the ghastly Hashimpura massacre of May 22 in which the PAC is alleged to have taken away 48 Muslims from Hashimpura village, shot them and thrown the bodies into a canal and a river. Six of them survived.

Another 12 Muslims are said to have been killed by prison officials in the Meerut and Fatehgarh jails during this period.

The run-up to the riots went like this: On April 14, 1987, while the Nauchandi fair was in full swing in Meerut, communal violence broke out. An allegedly drunken sub-inspector of police was said to have been struck by a firecracker while on duty. He opened fire, killing two Muslims.

The same day, Muslims had organised a religious sermon near the Hashimpura crossing, close to the venue of a mundan event held by a Hindu family at Purwa Shaikhlal. Some Muslims objected to film songs being played on loudspeakers, which led to a quarrel.

The Hindu side is said to have fired first. The Muslims then allegedly torched some Hindu shops. Twelve people, both Hindus and Muslims, were reported killed. A curfew was imposed and the situation controlled, but the incident lit the fire that burnt Meerut for weeks.

On May 17, there was rioting in Kainchiyan Mohalla. By May 18, the violence had spread to Hapur Road, Pilokheri and other areas. On May 19, curfew was imposed on the city with 11 PAC companies brought in to help an estimated 60,000-strong local police.

From then on, the character of the “riots” changed — from clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs to alleged killings of Muslims by the forces.

Bodies in well

On May 23, eyewitnesses say, “the PAC led by senior officers including the commandant of the 44th battalion R.D. Tripathi entered Maliana about 2.30pm and killed more than 70 Muslims”. Several bodies were found in a well.

The Congress administration of chief minister Vir Bahadur Singh declared 10 people dead before raising the figure to 12 and then to 15. A judicial inquiry by Justice G.L. Srivastav, a retired Allahabad High Court judge, started on August 27, 1987, and handed in its report on July 31, 1989. It was never made public.

An FIR was lodged but did not accuse PAC personnel. Maliana’s Muslims say the investigation was “shoddy” and the chargesheet weak.

In 34 years, the Meerut sessions court trying the case has examined only 3 of the 35 prosecution witnesses.

The main FIR, the basis of the entire case against 95 alleged rioters from nearby villages, suddenly “disappeared” in 2010. The “search” for the FIR is still on.

Bodies in canal

A day before the Maliana killings, the PAC and the army had surrounded Hashimpura. All the residents were lined up on the main road, males aged above 50 or below 12 were segregated, and 48 among the rest were forced onto a truck.

They were driven to Muradnagar and many of them were allegedly shot by the PAC. More than 20 bodies were found floating in the Ganga canal.

The rest of the captives were taken to the Hindon river near the Delhi border where they were allegedly shot and dumped into the water. Altogether, 42 died.

On May 29, the state government announced it would suspend Tripathi, who had also faced allegations during the 1982 Meerut riots. But Tripathi was never actually suspended and continued to receive promotions till his retirement.

A CBI inquiry ordered by Rajiv Gandhi’s central government submitted a report that was never made officially public. A crime branch-CID probe headed by then state police chief Jangi Singh, in its report, recommended prosecuting 37 PAC personnel and police officers. The state government sanctioned the prosecution of 19, of whom 3 died during the trial.

A chargesheet was filed in 1996 but none of the accused appeared before the Ghaziabad court until 2000, when 16 accused PAC men surrendered, got bail, and returned to resume their service.

The Supreme Court transferred the case to Delhi in 2002 on a plea from the victims’ families but hearings couldn’t begin till November 2004 because the Uttar Pradesh government had not appointed a public prosecutor for the case.

On March 21, 2015, the additional sessions judge held the evidence was insufficient and acquitted all the accused. Eventually, on October 31, 2018, Delhi High Court overturned the trial court order and convicted the 16 PAC personnel, sentencing them to life terms.

Jail killings

More than 2,500 people appear to have been arrested during the 1987 Meerut riots. Reports and records of June 3, 1987, suggest that five accused were killed in Meerut jail and seven in Fatehgarh jail. All of them were Muslims.

A magisterial inquiry into the Fatehgarh killings said that six inmates had died of injuries, some of them suffered in “scuffles that took place inside the jail”.

According to reports, several jail staff were suspended and departmental proceedings launched against the chief head warder, a deputy jailor and the deputy superintendent of the prison.

Three murder cases relating to these six deaths were registered but the FIRs contained no names despite certain officials being indicted by the inquiry. So, no prosecution was ever launched in these 34 years.

Independently, the state government ordered an administrative inquiry into the riots that took place between May 18 and 22, but left out Maliana and the killings in Meerut and Fatehgarh jails.

The report was not placed before the legislature or the public.

Fresh plea

Now a public interest plea has been filed before Allahabad High Court by this writer, former Uttar Pradesh director-general of police Vibhuti Narain Rai, a man named Ismail who lost 11 family members at Maliana, and a lawyer, M.A. Rashid, who appeared in the Maliana case in the Meerut trial court. The plea has sought a reinvestigation, fair and speedy trial, and adequate compensation to the families of the Maliana victims.

The petitioners have accused police and PAC personnel of intimidating victims and witnesses.

The writer is a journalist who writes in Hindi, Urdu and English and worked 14 years with BBC World Service. He covered the Meerut riots of 1987 and was an eyewitness to many incidents.

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