The chargesheet was filed 11 years later in 1988, but the court framed charges after 20 years in 2008.
Meerut (Uttar Pradesh)/New Delhi: The charred bodies of his parents in the house’s backyard still haunt Nawabuddin (55). His parents were among the 73 Muslims allegedly killed during the communal riot in Maliana village and surrounding areas, outside Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut city, on May 23, 1987.
When Nawabuddin went to collect the bodies from his house in the Hindu-dominated Sanjay Colony with only 40-50 Muslim households, he couldn’t find them. His police complaint was never turned into an FIR nor was his statement ever recorded.
Newsclick visited Maliana to meet the riot victims, who recounted the horror and pain.
“Meerut was under curfew from May 19-23, 1987, with tension increasing. The Maliana carnage took place a day after the Hashimpura massacre. On May 22, Muslim households in Kishanpura (nearly one kilometre from Maliana) were attacked by armed rioters backed by the UP Police and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC),” Nawabuddin alleged.
“At least, three people were killed. No Muslim family stays there. All the four Muslim houses were torched in nearby Chandarlok and 12 of 13 members of a family were killed the same day,” he told Newsclick recalling the bloodshed.
A day after the Army and the PAC rounded up hundreds of Muslim men in a house-to-house search in Hashimpura following an alleged order from the ‘top’ to spread terror, 50 of them were taken to the Upper Ganga Canal in a PAC truck, lined up in a queue, shot dead and their bodies were thrown in the water.
Now, it was Maliana’s turn. The reserved police force landed in the village under the ‘pretext’ that Muslims from Meerut were hiding in the area.
“All the five entry points of Maliana were blocked by the police and the PAC. Around 9 am on May 23, a liquor shop in Sanjay Colony was either looted or its booze distributed. Around 11 am, a PAC company entered houses forcefully in the name of a search operation. They were joined by armed civilian rioters looting valuables and setting the houses on fire,” Nawabuddin alleged.
“With no option to protect themselves”, he added, the locals “started pelting the attackers with stones”.
The PAC reacted “with targeted shooting of unarmed men, women and children,” Nawabuddin, who was in his early 20s, further alleged.
Around 5-6 pm, the residents with their “hands up” gathered at Islampur Chowk demanding the deployment of the Army and the Central Reserve Police Force to save them from the PAC’s “terror”, he added.
Shockingly, while the residents were talking with the police and top district administration officials, a house with a couple and its four teenage children a few metres away was “set ablaze” by rioters,” Nawabuddin alleged.
Maliana-based journalist Shakil Ahmad Siddiqui (55), who was reporting the case, was among the residents who removed the charred bodies from the house.
“We found the charred remains of the couple, each clutching two children. The bodies could not be separated and buried,” he told Newsclick.
He alleged that “36 people were killed in Maliana alone” but only 22 bodies were found. “According to reports, 73 people died in and around Maliana that day. The bodies of nine people killed in Sanjay Colony were not recovered.”
The rioters went on the rampage in Sanjay Colony around 2 pm. “We were witnessing the terror from our terrace. Around 2:30 pm-3 pm, an Ambassador car stopped near Islampur Chowraha and one of the occupants fired in the air. The rioters started fleeing in different directions while killing Muslims and looting their properties on the way,” Nawabuddin alleged.
“When we saw the goons charging towards our house, we jumped off the terrace and hid in an adjacent vacant house. They looted our house and set it ablaze. Our parents were burned alive. We saw their bodies in the backyard,” he added.
Fearing for their lives, Nawabuddin and his four brothers left the bodies and took shelter at a madrasa-turned-relief camp in the Muslim-dominated Islampur Chowraha.
The locals were relieved when the Sikh Regiment helped collect the bodies and rushed the injured to hospitals. Unfortunately, Nawabuddin and his brothers never found their parents’ bodies.
The residents were so scared that they did not leave their houses for weeks. A week after the violence, Nawabuddin lodged a complaint at the TP Nagar Police Station, which “refused” to turn it into an FIR. No investigating officer or court recorded his statement.
In fact, no FIR was lodged till then-Prime Minister (PM) Rajiv Gandhi visited Maliana.
Shakil Khan (58) couldn’t trace his father’s body, killed by the rioters while returning from Kanpur near the Maliana railway station.
“He was brutally beaten up by a mob at the Maliana railway station and fell unconscious. When he regained his senses and tried to flee, he was beaten to death,” he told Newsclick.
After more than 800 hearings in 36 years, a Meerut district court acquitted all 40 accused citing a “lack of evidence” this April.
Among the acquitted was advocate Kailash Bharti (75). Sharing a light moment over tea and cigarette with his Muslim acquaintances, including Mohammad Yaqub (66), who had ‘complained’ against him, Bharti said that he still does not have any idea why he was booked, slapped with the National Security Act (NSA), sent to jail and tried for years despite no role in the riots.
Advocate Kailash Bharti was jailed and tried for years despite having no role in the riots.
Advocate Kailash Bharti was jailed and tried for years despite having no role in the riots.
Then a leader of the Dalit Mazdoor Kisan Party, floated by former PM Chaudhary Charan Singh, Bharti was shocked to know that he was the main accused “though I had no role”.
“On May 24, two uniformed men arrived at my house and asked me to accompany them to a peace committee meeting. I agreed having no idea that it was a trap. I was taken to a makeshift Army camp at the sugarcane society office on Baghpat Road. I was later informed that I had been arrested for my ‘role’ in the unrest. More than a thousand people had been taken into custody at the camp,” he recalled.
After the prosecution failed to present a strong case against him 10 days after his arrest, Bharti was granted bail by a local court. But before his release, he was detained under the NSA. Finally, the case was dismissed after three-and-a-half months.
“When I arrived in Maliana, Muslims welcomed me with garlands. Even when I was acquitted of all the charges on March 31 this year, Yaqub met me first at my residence. We had a photo session that was widely published in newspapers,” he said.
Asked why he was framed when he had “no involvement”, Bharti alleged it might have been a political vendetta.
“The Indira Gandhi-led Congress government was debating reservation in Parliament in 1980. We were protesting the persecution of Dalits and caste-based violence, including the Deoli massacre. I and two others entered the Lok Sabha, threw pamphlets and raised slogans against the government. Perhaps, I was implicated because of that incident,” he alleged claiming that he would have had a good political career but for his arrest.
Why did Yaqub file a false complaint against Bharti? “I complained against 93 people whom I don’t even know by name,” he sarcastically replied.
“Forget about the fellow residents of your locality. If I ask you the names of 93 members of your family, you can’t answer. But as per police records, I lodged a complaint against 93 people, the names of their fathers and their roles in the bloodshed. Is it possible?” he asked.
With a few residents, including Bharti, nodding in affirmation, Yaqub alleged, “I was picked by the police, brutally tortured and forced to sign blank papers. Later, I learned that 93 Hindus were named in the FIR based on his ‘complaint’ without mentioning a single PAC personnel. Since it was a false complaint filed under my name, I could not substantiate the claims in court.”
Victims officially declared dead were compensated Rs 20,000 each by the Gandhi and Veer Bahadur Singh governments at the Centre and the state, respectively.
A conviction would have been surprising considering how the police investigated the case.
Cover-up started since the beginning. The main FIR, based on which the case (no. 1491/98) against 95 rioters from the nearby villages was built, suddenly disappeared in 2010. The FIR didn’t name the PAC, accused of providing a cover to the rioters and indulging in ‘targeted killings’.
Moreover, the police allegedly refused to register FIRs despite complaints. When FIRs were lodged, no investigation was done. Several bodies allegedly disappeared. Doctors who has conducted 34 post-mortems never turned up in the court for examination and cross-examination.
The accused were not examined under Section 313 of the CrPC (power of the court to examine the accused to explain evidence adduced against him), etc.
Almost half of the witnesses and the accused died during the trial. The chargesheet was filed 11 years later in 1988, but the court framed charges after 20 years in 2008. The investigating officers did not examine the witnesses and the accused. The police had mentioned 61 eyewitnesses, but only 14 turned up to record their statements.
Most of the witnesses, whom the investigators framed, turned hostile. Only the prime witness, a lawyer, stood by his statement. In most cases, no FIRs had been lodged against the accused.
Though the Delhi High Court convicted 16 retired PAC personnel in the Hashimpura massacre in 2018, the ones allegedly involved in the Maliana riot were neither named in the FIR nor tried by the trial court.
Justice Bhushan Lal Srivastava Commission was formed to investigate the case, but it started working a year after the violence. Its report, submitted in 1989, is yet to see the light of the day. The Commission allegedly took all the photographs of the incidents from the victims along with their negatives.
Disappointed with the lower court’s verdict, the survivors filed petitions in the Allahabad High Court. A Division Bench of Justices Manish Kumar Nigam and Siddhartha Varma directed the state government to provide the case file and fixed August 14 for the next hearing.
The court will also decide on these crucial matters in the pending PIL file by former top cop Vibhuti Narain Rai and journalist Qurban Ali requesting a retrial and monitoring of the case.
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