The Allahabad High Court directed the UP Government on 19th April 2021, to file a counter-affidavit as its reply on a writ petition (PIL) seeking re-investigation into the alleged killing of 72 Muslims in Meerut’s Maliana village by U.P. PAC on May 23, 1987, and other custodial killings during 1987 Meerut riots. The trial has been going on in the Maliana case in a session court in Meerut for the last 34 years. According to the petitioners, in this case, key documents, including the FIR, have gone missing, more than 800 dates have been given since the proceedings began. The last hearing took place four years ago.
This year marks the 34th anniversary of the ghastly killings of Hashimpura Mohalla and Maliana village of Meerut district in which more than a hundred twenty Muslims were killed by the U.P.s notorious Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and other custodial killings of more than 12 Muslims in Meerut and Fatehgarh jails. There has been no justice even after three decades.
The events that led to the horrendous Meerut riots in April-May-June, 1987 were as follows: On 14th April 1987 when the Nauchandi fair was in full bloom, communal violence broke out. It is said that a police Sub Inspector, on duty, was struck by a firecracker and as he was drunk he opened fire, killing two Muslims.
Another incident is also reported to have occurred on the same day. Muslims had arranged a religious sermon near the Hashimpura crossing close to the location of another function, a Mundan in Purwa Shaikhlal of a Hindu family. Some Muslims objected to film songs being played on loudspeakers which led to a quarrel.
It is alleged that the Hindu side fired first. The Muslims in return set some Hindu shops on fire. 12 people, both Hindus and Muslims were reported to have been killed. A curfew was imposed and the situation was controlled. However, tension prevailed and both sides succeeded in causing further trouble and starting three-month-long intermittent rioting in Meerut which resulted, according to government estimates, in the death of 174 people and injuries to 171. In fact, the loss was far more grievous. According to the various studies and reports it can be safely asserted that the rioting in Meerut during these three months actually left 350 dead and property worth crores destroyed.
On 17th May 1987, the incidents that led to the riots and then to the Hashimpura massacre and Maliana carnage took place in Kainchiyan Mohalla. By the next day, the riots had spread first to Hapur Road and Pilokheri and then to other areas. On 19th May a curfew was imposed throughout the city. To an estimated 60,000 strong local police, 11 companies of PAC were added. After the armed police established ‘law and order’, the character of the riots completely transformed.
In the initial phase, the riots were a confrontation between Hindus and Muslims, in which mobs killed each other. It is said that more Hindus appear to have been killed in this phase. But later on, after 22nd May, the riots ceased to be riots and became Police-PAC violence against Muslims. On that day PAC indulged in large-scale arson, looting, and burning in Hashimpura and proceeded the next day on the outskirts of the city in Maliana on 23rd May 1987.
One of the most shameful chapters of human callousness and the biggest event of custodial killings in independent India was enacted in the Hashimpura area. It would appear by then that sufficient contingents of police and PAC had been inducted into Meerut. It was not clear but it seems that some decision was taken at the ‘top’ to spread terror in the Hashimpura area. Pursuant to this on May 22, Hashimpura was surrounded by the PAC and the Army. The PAC then forced all residents out of their houses to the main Road. Then a house to house search was conducted. All residents were lined up on the main road and about 50 of them were asked to board a PAC truck. Another group of 324 were arrested and taken by other police vehicles.
What the police did in Hashimpura is something that can never be lived down and the shame of this will continue to haunt any civilized Government. The way the residents of Hashimpura were treated was shameful. Hundreds of people were taken out from the locality and asked to sit on the road. Army personnel segregated men over 50 years of age as well as those under 12 to one side of the road and dumped the rest into waiting trucks. Out of 42, only 6 persons were traceable, others seem to have vanished into thin air.
They were arrested together and taken in a truck to Muradnagar and when the truck reached the upper Ganga canal, they were shot by the PAC and their bodies thrown into the canal. More than 20 bodies were found floating in the canal. The second installment of the same incident took place after an hour or so at the Hindon river near the Delhi-U.P. border where the rest of the Muslim youth arrested from Hashimpura were killed on the point-blank range and their bodies dumped in a similar manner.
The then central government headed by Rajiv Gandhi ordered a CBI inquiry in the abduction and shooting of people at the Ganga canal. CBI began its inquiry on 28 June 1987, and after a thorough inquiry submitted its report. However, the report was never made officially public.
A Crime Branch-Central Investigation Department inquiry headed by Jangi Singh, DIG Police, Uttar Pradesh began its probe into the Muradnagar canal incident on 4th June 1987. Its report was submitted to the state government in October 1994 and it recommended prosecuting 37 PAC personnel and police officers.
On 1st June 1995, the then Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government of UP gave permission to prosecute 19 out of 37 of those accused. Finally, it was in 1996 when a charge sheet was filed with the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Ghaziabad under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
It was Mayawati’s government which on 20 May 1997, gave the permission to prosecute the remaining 18 officials. Bailable warrants were issued 23 times followed by non-bailable warrants 17 times against these accused but none of them appeared before the court of law until 2000.
In the year 2000, 16 accused PAC men surrendered before the Ghaziabad court, got bail, and went back to resume their service. Disappointed with undue delay in the proceedings of the Ghaziabad court, kins of the victims and survivors filed a petition with Supreme Court praying to transfer the case to Delhi as the conditions in Delhi would be more conducive. The Supreme Court granted this prayer in 2002. Thereafter, the case was transferred to Tees Hazari court in Delhi. But the case couldn’t start before November 2004 because the Uttar Pradesh state government did not appoint a public prosecutor for the case.
Finally after a long legal battle the Additional Sessions Judge, at Tees Hazari Court, Delhi while delivering the judgment dated 21 March 2015, on the completion of trial of the accused, held that the evidence adduced by the prosecution was not sufficient to record the guilt for the offences the accused persons had been charged with. It was further stated that it was painful to observe that several innocent persons had been traumatized and their lives had been taken by the State agency but the investigation agency, as well as the prosecution, had failed to bring on record the reliable material to establish the identity of culprits. The accused persons facing trial are entitled to benefit of doubt existing in the case of the prosecution. With these directions, the Court acquitted all the accused persons of the charges framed against them.
U.P. Government challenged the verdict of session court in Delhi High Court and finally the Delhi high court on October 31, 2018, overturned trial court’s decision to acquit 16 policemen of charges of murder and other crimes in the 1987 Hashimpura case in which 42 people were killed. The high court convicted the 16 Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel charged, and sentenced them to life imprisonment. A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel of the Delhi high court termed the massacre as “targeted killing of unarmed and defenseless people by the police”.
While sentencing all the convicts to life imprisonment, the court said the families of the victims had to wait 31 years to get justice and monetary relief cannot compensate for their loss. All the 16 convicts have retired from service by then.
By the Delhi high court judgment on October 31, 2018, only half justice was delivered in the Hashimpura massacre case, but it still left many questions unanswered. What about Maliana where 72 Muslims were killed by the 44th battalion of PAC led by Commandant R D Tripathi on May 23rd, 1987?
An FIR on this massacre was lodged but unfortunately, there is no mention of the PAC personnel in the FIR. With a “shoddy” investigation by the State agency and a weak charge sheet by the prosecution, Maliana’s Muslims feel they will not get justice, just as the victims of Hashimpura got on 31st October 2018 by Delhi High Court.
The trial in this case has not even crossed the first stage. In the past 34 years, 800 dates have been fixed for the hearing, but only three of the 35 prosecution witnesses have been examined by the Meerut court. The last hearing was held almost four years ago. The case is pending before the Session court of Meerut.
The laxity of the prosecution can be gauged from the fact that the main FIR, the basis of the entire case against 95 rioters from the nearby villages, suddenly “disappeared” in 2010. The session’s court in Meerut refused to go ahead with the trial without a copy of the FIR and a “search” for the FIR is still on.
According to eyewitnesses “the PAC led by senior officers including the Commandant of the 44th battalion RD Tripathi entered Maliana about 2.30 pm on 23rd May 1987 and killed more than 70 Muslims. The then Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh officially declared 10 people dead. The District Magistrate said 12 were killed in Maliana but later he accepted in the first week of June 1987, that 15 people were killed by Police and PAC. Several bodies were also found in a well.
On 27th May 1987, the then U.P. Chief Minister announced a judicial inquiry into Maliana killings. It was finally ordered on August 27, by Justice GL Srivastava, a retired judge of Allahabad High Court.
On 29th May 1987, U.P. Government announced the suspension of the PAC Commandant RD Tripathi, who ordered the firing in Maliana. Interestingly, allegations were also made against him during the 1982 Meerut riots. But the fact is RD Tripathi was never suspended and instead was awarded promotions in service till his retirement.
CUSTODIAL KILLINGS IN JAILS
According to various reports, more than 2500 people were arrested during the 1987 Meerut riots. Out of which 800 were arrested during the last fortnight of May (21-25) 1987. There were cases of custodial killings in jails as well. Reports and records of 3rd June 1987 suggest that five arrested persons were killed in Meerut Jail while seven were killed in Fatehgarh jail, all were Muslims. FIRs registered and case numbers of some of the custodial deaths in Meerut and Fatehgarh jails are still available.
The state government also ordered two other inquiries, into the incidents in Meerut prison and the Fatehgarh prison. A magisterial inquiry ordered into the incidents in Fatehgarh prison established that six people died as a result of injuries received, among other places, in the ‘scuffles that took place inside the jail’.
According to the reports, IG (Prison) U.P., suspended four jail wardens two jail guards (Behari Lai and Kunj Behari), two convict warders (Girish Chandra and Daya Ram) were suspended. Departmental proceedings, which include transfer, were launched against the Chief Head Warder (Balak Ram), a Deputy Jailor (Nagendranath Srivastav), and the Deputy Superintendent of the prison (Ram Singh). On the basis of this report, three murder cases relating to these six killings were launched in Kotwali police station Meerut. But the First Information Reports (FIRs) do not list any names despite certain officials being indicted by the inquiry. So no prosecution was launched in the last 34 years.
After the announcement by the Uttar Pradesh government for a judicial inquiry on the Maliana incidents, under the Commission of Enquiries Act, 1952 in the last week of May 1987, the Commission headed by Justice GL Srivastav, a retired judge of Allahabad High Court started its proceedings three months later, on 27 August 1987. The examination of witnesses from Maliana was hindered by the continued presence of the PAC in Maliana. Finally, in January 1988, the Commission ordered the government to remove the PAC. Altogether 84 public witnesses, 70 Muslims, and 14 Hindus were examined by the Commission, in addition to five official witnesses. But over time the apathy and indifference of the public and the media seem to have afflicted its proceedings. Finally, the Judicial Commission, headed by Justice GL Srivastava, submitted its report on 31 July 1989 but it was never made public.
Independently, the government also ordered an administrative inquiry over the riots that took place from 18th to 22nd, May, but they exclude the events in Maliana and custodial killings in Meerut & Fatehgarh jails.
The panel, headed by Gian Prakash, former Comptroller and Auditor General of India, consisted of Ghulam Ahmad, a retired IAS official and a former Vice-Chancellor of Avadh University, and Ram Krishan, IAS, Secretary PWD. The panel was asked to submit its report within thirty days, which it did. On the grounds that the inquiry was of an administrative nature, ordered for its own purposes, the government did not place its report before the legislature or public. However, The Telegraph, a daily from Calcutta, published the entire report in November 1987.
Now public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed before the Division Bench of Allahabad high court by this writer and former Director-General of Uttar Pradesh police, Vibhuti Narain Rai IPS, a victim Ismail, who lost his 11 family members at Maliana on 23rd May 1987 and a lawyer M A Rashid, who conducted the case in a Meerut trial court, seeking a fair and speedy trial by SIT and adequate compensation to the families of victims.
More than three decades on, the Maliana massacre case and other custodial killings in Meerut during the 1987 riots have not progressed much as key court papers had mysteriously gone missing. The petitioners have also accused the UP Police and Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel of intimidating victims and witnesses not to depose. After hearing this PIL, Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Yadav and Justice Prakash Padia of the Allahabad high court on 19th April 2021, ordered that the Uttar Pradesh government should file a counter-affidavit.
“Taking into consideration the grievance raised in the petition and the relief sought we call upon the State to file the counter affidavit and para-wise reply to the writ petition. List in week commencing 24th May 2021 in the additional cause list,” the Bench ruled. For the petitioners, noted human rights activist and senior Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves appeared in the case.
(Qurban Ali is a senior tri-lingual (Hindi, Urdu, and English) journalist with more than 35 years of experience across all traditional media viz. TV, radio, print, and the Internet. He covered the Meerut riots of 1987 and was an eyewitness to many incidents. He can be contacted at email@example.com)