35 years later, Maliana’s wounds may have healed but the ache remains  

Petition filed in High Court has sought reinvestigation into the massacre of Muslims in the U.P. village in 1987

May 15, 2022 12:41 am | Updated 12:01 pm IST - Meerut

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi meets residents at the U.P. village of Maliana in 1987.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi meets residents at the U.P. village of Maliana in 1987. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Archives

It has been almost 35 years since 72 Muslims were allegedly killed in and around Maliana during the Meerut riots that broke out in the summer of 1987, but the light of justice refuses to shine on the urban village that carries a niggling ache for the deceased and a sense of disillusionment towards the criminal justice system.

The case has been pending in a local Meerut court since 1998. Around 800 dates later, its status is that the original first information report (FIR) is missing from the government records, almost half of the accused died, as have many of the prosecution witnesses. Moreover, the report of the Justice G. L. Shrivastava Commission that was formed to investigate the case by the then Congress government, which was submitted in 1989, is yet to see the light of the day.

Recently, a writ petition was filed in the Allahabad High Court seeking re-investigation of the case by a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the role of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) in the killings, and demanding that compensation for the deceased be made at par with the Hashimpura case which happened a day before the Maliana killings.

Unlike in the Hashimpura massacre case that was decided by a Delhi court in 2018, leading to the conviction of 16 ex-PAC men, here, the role of the PAC has not even been mentioned in the original complaint lodged by Mohd Yaqub.

Thirty-five years is a long time for memory to serve right but witness accounts, testimonies of family members of the deceased, and the defence of the accused, paint a painful picture of what transpired on May 23, 1987, during the month of Ramzan.

Yameen and Nawabuddin who lost their parents in the violence that hit the U.P. village of Maliana in 1987.

Yameen and Nawabuddin who lost their parents in the violence that hit the U.P. village of Maliana in 1987. | Photo Credit: Anuj Kumar

Doston ki bhi nazar badal gay thi (even the behaviour of friends changed),” Vaqil Ahmed, who runs a tailoring shop, said, as he showed scars on his forearm and abdomen. “One of the two bullets pierced my kidney.”

Mr. Ahmed is one of the few witnesses who have recorded their statements in court. He alleges that the local police and PAC allowed Dalits, who formed the majority in the locality, to loot a local wine shop, and then provided them cover as they ransacked Muslim houses and set many of them on fire.

“We were living peacefully with Dalits but it seemed that they were instigated by Hindutva elements to take revenge for what happened with their mothers and daughters in other parts of the city during the riots. Perhaps they were made to believe that Muslims would run away and they could take charge of their properties,” he claimed.

Ismail Khan, who lost 11 members of his family, alleged they were killed by the upper caste Hindu neighbours who had criminal antecedents. “They had firearms and carried out the killings under police cover. They knew my younger brother was getting married but even he was not spared. I was in Delhi to distribute the cards,” Mr. Khan said.

One of the four petitioners in the High Court, Mr. Khan said post-mortem of only five members of his family was carried out, and five others were declared dead after police verification. “One member was not counted. So I got compensation for 10 members. Out of fear, I shifted to Ghaziabad, and over a period of time, our property was encroached upon by the neighbours. I had given a written complaint in the police station and have deposed before the court but we are still awaiting justice.”

Mr. Yaqub, on whose complaint the sole FIR in the case was lodged, claimed he, along with five others, was picked by the PAC that had surrounded the village since the morning of May 23. “We were mercilessly beaten up and had it not been a generous Sub-Inspector, we would have been killed,” he alleged. He said he was made to sign certain papers that he later came to know became the basis for the only FIR in the case. “Even a healthy person could not name 93 persons with their fathers’ names. How could I have when I could barely breathe at that time?” he asked.

One of the main accused is Kailash Bharti, a Dalit advocate and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Perhaps he was named because he had a gun licence and the police wanted to turn the targeted killing of Muslims into a riot between two communities. But if there were riots, why did people of only one community die in Maliana?” Mr. Yaqub asked. “It became a strange situation that people with whom I ate and gossiped became petitioner and accused in court. There was a running joke in the village that Yakub could send anybody to jail for at least 15 days.”

Mr. Bharti doesn’t deny that there were some elements who wanted to incite violence between Muslims and Dalits. “But it’s wrong to say that I pushed people in my neighbourhood to indulge in violence and looting. Why would I do it? We share boundary walls. Their mothers bless me. There could be outsiders who used the situation. Perhaps it was the PAC that fired at Muslims because they had intelligence reports that some miscreants who indulged in violence in Hashimpura were hiding in Maliana, and when they came for a search, stones were pelted at them.”

He said he was at his residence on May 23 and asked his family members to shut the doors and windows. “I remember I didn’t allow my kids to go out even to pass urine and asked them to use utensils instead. The sound of gunshots lasted for three-four hours.”

Mr. Bharti took out Mr. Yaqub’s son’s wedding card to underline that all is well between the two communities. “I was targeted because I was anti-Congress. My career has suffered because of the case. I want it to reach its logical conclusion,” he said.

Mohd Alauddin, the advocate who has been representing the victims in the sessions court, said wounds were bound to heal but it doesn’t mean that the crime was not committed. “There are 36 post-mortem reports. Someone must have killed them. Witnesses have identified locals. People were in so much fear of the police, how could they have named the PAC? The reports show entry and exit wounds from bullets and then there are stab wounds, sometimes on the same body. Many bodies were recovered from a well,” Mr. Alauddin said.

He flayed the role of the political leadership, particularly Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan. “He used Hashimpura and Maliana to shine his political career but did nothing to make the Shrivastava Commission report public or speed up the proceedings in the Sessions Court,” Mr. Alauddin said.

Senior journalist Qurban Ali, one of the petitioners, pointed out in a counter affidavit in the High Court that the government had submitted that compensation was given to the families of 56 people: “The government has not accepted the role of the PAC but in the rejoinder to the government affidavit, we have appealed to the honourable court to refer to the Justice Shrivastava Commission report and the reports of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties and several media reports and constitute a Special Investigation Team to re-investigate the Maliana case.”

Also read | Kin of Hashimpura victims to get Rs.5 lakh as compensation

Meanwhile, sitting on a cot on the roadside, Nawabuddin and Yameen mourn the death of their parents. “My father was shot dead but I was saved by a Dalit family,” Mr. Yameen, a daily wager, said. “They hid me behind a cot and stood in front of it.”

“Nine people were killed in Sanjay Colony of Maliana but the administration didn’t return the bodies,” Mr. Nawabuddin, a painter who lost his father and mother, claimed. “The fact that I received compensation for their deaths is the only proof I have they were killed. I used the receipt of the compensation to sell a small piece of land that my father left,” he further claimed.

Mr. Yameen said he had seen the killers but could not gather the courage to file a complaint against them. “But I have seen them suffer in old age. One of them became senile, another one was killed in a family feud. Sukoon mila. We can only wait for His justice,” Mr. Yameen said, pointing a finger towards the scorching May sun.

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