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Emergency excesses still haunt Khalapar

Khwaja Abdul Majid, 92, with the photo of his son, Mohammad Saleem, who was killed at the age of 19 in a police firing at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh during a protest against forced sterilisation. Photo: Haris Khan  

As the nation remembers the darkest days of the Emergency on its 40th anniversary, 25 families in Muzaffarnagar still wait for their tragedy to be acknowledged by the authorities.

On the afternoon of October 18, 1976, 25 persons, mostly Muslim men, were allegedly killed in indiscriminate firing by Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel as they took part in a peaceful protest against the forced sterilisation diktat of Sanjay Gandhi.

Every moment of that day is deeply etched in the memory of Hasina Begum, whose husband Mohammad Saddique (32) was one of the victims. Saddique left home around 12.30 p.m. and within hours, Hasina found his bullet-ridden, blood-soaked body on the road among those of other victims.

“I pleaded with him not to go out. But there was strong anger against forcible vasectomy, mainly of Muslims. People were out on the roads to protest a new PAC team which was in town to implement Sanjay Gandhi’s agenda,” said Ms. Hasina, a frail, old lady in her early 60s now.

The then District Magistrate, Vijendra Yadav, known for his aggressive implementation of the sterilisation drive, had allegedly ordered the firing on the thousand-odd protesters.

Twenty-five men were killed in Khalapar, including 23 poor pasmanda (backward caste) Muslims and two Hindus who were passing through the area. Four others were killed in similar firing at a protesting crowd in Kairana village, now in the adjacent Shamli district.

Forty years and a Commission of Inquiry later, the families of the victims have not got any justice or compensation. No action was ever taken against any of the officers involved.

Probe panel

According to a local journalist, Arshad Rahi, an inquiry commission was set up by the Janata Party government after it came to power in 1977. The report of the single-member commission headed by retired Allahabad High Court Judge Ram Asrey Mishra, however, was never tabled in the Assembly.

“The files are still gathering dust in the archives of the District Collectorate,” said Mohammad Ali Alwi, a former Assistant Commissioner, who was a witness to the killings.

Asked about the inquiry report, district officials told The Hindu that it was “lying in an almirah whose key had been lost”.

Recalling the incident, Mr. Rahi, who edits a local daily Royal Bulletin, said, “Forced vasectomy was going on in full swing. People were bribing the officials to evade the forced drive.”

“The problem started when the administration initiated forced sterilisation of young Muslim boys,” he said. “So many youngsters were picked up that day. Mohammad Saleem, the 19-year-old son of Khwaja Abdul Majid, fled his house only to be a target of police bullets.”

Seeing the body of his eldest son who had recently started his career as a tailor, Majid became mentally unstable.

“On October 18, a PAC force surrounded Khalapar and announcements were made asking people to come out voluntarily for sterilisation. At the same time, counter announcements were being made from the local mosque that Muslims will never give up,” said Mr. Rahi.

Mr Rahi, who was a witness to the firing, said there was a big crowd and suddenly somebody from one of the roofs threw something at the DM, who thought it was a bomb. The next moment he ordered the PAC to fire at the “unarmed crowd”.

“The sterilisation drive was aimed at bringing down the population and Vijendra Yadav did it one way or another, by killing people,” said Ms. Hasina’s son Abdullah.

Even though the Emergency has been much talked about in the post-Independence Indian history, the killing of unarmed citizens in Muzaffarnagar has remained one of its least known chapters, said Mr Rahi.

In Muzaffarnagar, however, people have not forgotten the infamous “Nasbandi Goli Kand”. The chowk where the protesters were killed is called Shahid Chowk and the names of the 25 victims are painted on the walls.

Many witnesses of the killings, who are in their early or late seventies, said the administration tried to orchestrate a communal riot to “somehow link the incident to it and justify its action”. “But the local Hindu population ensured that the dirty tricks of the administration did not work. They were asked by the police to register a complaint that Muslims started the firing, but they refused to do that,” said Mr. Rahi.

The local Hindus even refused to celebrate Diwali which fell two days after the incident on October 20. “DM Yadav tried to force the local shopkeepers and Hindu representatives to celebrate Diwali but they did not budge. Not even one cracker was burst in Hindu areas on Diwali that year,” added Mr Rahi.

The families of the victims blame their own leaders who have, over the years, refused to raise the issue because of their association with the Congress. “I don’t know what kind of justice is possible four decades later. But at least the government should give compensation which would help us carry on with our lives. If the victims of Hashimpura massacre can get compensation, why not 25 of us whose family members were killed by the PAC,” asked Abdullah.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 1:09:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/emergency-excesses-still-families-in-muzaffarnagar/article7371660.ece

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