In the backyard of Madrassa Tayyaba Taalim-ul-Koran lie several bodies buried in two mass graves; buried along with them is the hope for justice. As many as 72 Muslims were killed, and hundreds injured, in Maliana on the outskirts of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh on May 23, 1987.
According to the aggrieved residents, the carnage was carried out by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) in collaboration with the local Hindu community. With the Meerut court acquitting 38 accused on March 31, there is a pointed question that has been making rounds in the gloomy lanes of Maliana: “If the culprits are innocent, then who maimed and killed our people, who looted our homes and set them on fire during Ramzan?”
A day before the massacre, at least 42 Muslim men from Hashimpura, barely four kilometres from Maliana, were transported in a PAC truck to nearby Ghaziabad district where they were gunned down in the morning.
The noted Urdu poet Bashir Badr’s house in Shastri Nagar, Meerut, was targeted in the arson during the riots that ravaged the city for at least three months. Though Badr left the city after the Maliana killings, the carnage remained a recurring theme in his poetry. He wrote these lines, which would go on to become his signature statement on communal rioters:
Log toot jaate hain ek ghar banane mein,
Tum taras nahin khaate bastian jalane mein?
(People go broke setting up one home
Don’t you feel any remorse burning down entire colonies?)
Nearly 100 houses were rebuilt and repaired in Maliana following the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit. The remnants of one such burnt-down house tell the tale. Sitting in his Ghaziabad home, Mohammad Ismail, 62, said: “I lost my entire family, including two babies and my cousin. Their bodies were chopped into pieces and dumped in a well nearby our home.” He recalled: “That day, I was in Ghaziabad to distribute wedding cards as my younger brother was supposed to get married on the eve of Eid the next week.”
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Ismail said the house was first looted and then set ablaze along with the carpentry unit that his father had set up after taking a bank loan. When he returned home after a few days as the city reeled under curfew, the home had been reduced to a heap of ashes and debris. Thereafter, as he struggled to get the 11 death certificates, his experience with the police, court, and political leaders was excruciating.
A post-graduate in Economics, Mohammad Ismail has an NCC ‘C’ certificate, but his dream of joining the Army was gutted in that communal fire. He said: “I have offered my Maliana home to a local school, run by a Hindu, without demanding anything in return. I have neither repaired it nor do I think of selling it. All that I want is that the memories of my family should stay alive.”
The invisible victims
As the recent court judgment reopened old wounds, Mohammad Ismail said: “The judge didn’t find it necessary to record my statement. I was asked to be present in the court earlier in January but when I went there the judge was on the leave. And now I’ve got to know about the judgment from a newspaper.”
In Maliana, the survivors said, the case originally involved 93 accused persons but over the years many of them have died and others were declared untraceable. Similarly, several of the prosecution witnesses are no more. But even after 36 years, the survivors clearly recalled the sequence of events.
Talking to Frontline, they recounted how the PAC cordoned off the village, which is now a municipal area. The PAC, they claimed, was accompanied by local Hindus and Dalits. For many hours in broad daylight, marauding gangs attacked Muslims with guns and sharp-edged weapons, and looted and set ablaze Muslim properties. According to the survivors, the Uttar Pradesh government did not take into account the number of Maliana residents who were killed in police custody in Meerut and Fatehgarh jails following the carnage.
Most of the survivors have struggled to rebuild their lives. Sayeed Kausar Raza, 55, works as a watchman at Mansabia Arabic College, Meerut. His left arm had to be amputated after he suffered a bullet injury in firing allegedly by the PAC. Likewise, the trauma of seeing her child die has never left Munni, 58, in all these years. “He was thrown alive in the fire of our burning house,” she recalled, and said that her husband Ali Hassan, a rickshaw puller, passed away two years ago without any sense of closure.
The first information report (FIR) in the Maliana carnage was registered only after the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the place along with Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh. Qurban Ali, a senior journalist who was an eyewitness to many of the incidents, recalled in an article in The Wire: “A few days after the massacre, Vir Bahadur Singh officially declared 10 people dead. The next day, the district magistrate claimed 12 people had been killed, but in the first week of June 1987, after several bodies were found in a well, he accepted that 15 people had been killed. Altogether, the State government accepted 56 deaths in Maliana.”
Qurban Ali added that a probe committee headed by Justice G.L. Srivastava, a retired judge of the Allahabad high court, was constituted on the orders of State government on August 27, 1987. He wrote: “On May 29, 1987, the Uttar Pradesh government announced the suspension of the PAC commandant R.D. Tripathi, who ordered the firing in Maliana. Despite his involvement, Tripathi was never suspended. He was awarded promotions in the service till his retirement.”
Vakil Ahmed, a tailor in Maliana who was 24 at the time of massacre, suffered two gunshot injuries, one each in his left forearm and abdomen that damaged his right kidney. His shop was also set on fire. As a first witness from the prosecution side in the case, Vakil said: “Some of the local residents [from Hindu community] who were involved in the massacre and loot are still alive. The judge asked me if I had any evidence. I showed the bullet injury marks on my body.” In the police statement, he added “what was recorded was altogether different from what I had narrated”.
In his judgment on March 31 (after over 800 hearings), additional district judge Lakhvinder Singh Sood cited inadequate evidence against the accused. Underscoring inconsistencies and contradictions, Judge Sood noted in his judgment that the police had named several accused persons in the FIR from the voters’ list whereas they had passed away before the incident.
The judgment noted: “In none of their verbal statements recorded by the witnesses in the case documents, there is any mention of the separate alleged crimes committed by the accused persons …” It added: “…the witnesses had accused a mob that held illegal assembly to fulfil a common object. The looted property cited in the case hasn’t been recovered from any of the accused persons. None of the weapons used during the incident have been recovered from the accused persons. The documents on the record don’t have any such evidence that makes it clear that which accused had a particular role in committing a particular crime and which accused used which weapon to attack the complainant’s side. All the accusations against the accused persons have been made in a similar way.”
Referring to the Supreme Court judgment in Maranadu vs State by Inspector of Police, the judgment noted that “mere presence in an unlawful assembly cannot render a person liable unless there was a common object and the accused was aware of that common object…” Citing Mohinder Singh vs State of Punjab, it stated: “There is no circumstantial evidence on the record on the basis of which the court could reach a conclusion that the accused persons were part of the illegal assembly and they were aware of the common object of the illegal assembly.”
- On May 23, 1987, 72 Muslims were killed, and hundreds injured, in Maliana on the outskirts of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.
- On March 31, nearly 36 years and more than 800 hearings later, additional district judge Lakhvinder Singh Sood of Meerut court acquitted all 38 accused on grounds of inadequate evidence.
- As the judgment reopened old wounds, survivors of the massacre spoke to Frontline, clearly recalling the sequence of events of the massacre, the struggle to rebuild their lives, the silence of ‘‘secular” political parties and the many attempts to derail the trial.
The Hashimpura case
Justice, though delayed, was not denied to the victims of the Hashimpura massacre because of the efforts of Vibhuti Narain Rai IPS, then SP, Ghaziabad. “Before the case was transferred to the Crime Branch, Crime Investigation Department, I had only 36 hours to put the things on the record despite immense pressure from the higher ups,” recalled Rai, who made sure that a proper FIR was registered after the inquest proceedings and post-mortem reports, and the eyewitness account of one of the survivors, Babudin, 17, were well-documented. “And the FIR was registered under Babudin’s name.”
But in the Maliana case, Yakoob Ali, one of the survivors in whose name the original FIR was lodged, said that he had not been informed about the FIR when the police took his signature on papers. He said: “They just took my signatures on blank documents. I realised after many years that my statement had not been recorded by the police.” His 22-year-old nephew, Gulfaam, died on the roof of his house as a bullet pierced his neck. Others rued the fact that the authorities had never given them copies of the FIR and post-mortem reports of the deceased.
Rai, also the author of Hashimpura 22 May: The Forgotten Story Of India’s Biggest Custodial Killing, was instrumental in taking the protracted legal battle to a logical conclusion. In 2018, the Delhi High Court overturned the judgment of the trial court in the Hashimpura massacre case, sentencing 16 former policemen of the PAC to life imprisonment for killing 42 people, all of them Muslims, in cold blood. Describing the Hashimpura massacre as “targeted killing” of unarmed and defenceless people, the court held the ex-cops guilty of criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, murder and destruction of evidence.
Commenting on the Maliana acquittals, Rai said: “The judgment is an outcome of the weak case built by the police from the very beginning. There were several loopholes in the FIR. The names of the accused PAC personnel were not mentioned in the FIR. The post-mortem reports were changed. The statements of the survivors were wrongly recorded. Just like Hashimpura, the establishment wanted to hush up the matter.”
““The police just took my signatures on blank documents. I realised after many years that my statement had not been recorded.””Yakoob AliA survivor
With the court proceedings moving at a snail’s pace in the Maliana case, Rai, in association with Qurban Ali and Mohammad Ismail, filed a PIL in the Allahabad High Court on April 19, 2021, seeking a re-investigation, by a special investigation team, into the role of the PAC in the killings, loot, and arson. He said: “Re-investigation is going to be a tough task after over three decades. But if the case is not taken to a logical conclusion, it will remain a blot on the state and the justice system. The victims of the Maliana massacre should at least be compensated at par with the Hashimpura victims.”
Pointing to the silence of political parties, especially the “secular” ones, Mohammad Ismail said: “When the incident happened, it was the ‘secular’ Congress ruling in the State and the Centre. Thereafter, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party came to power in the State. But no one ever bothered to take note of our plight,”
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Alauddin Siddiqui, 84, the lawyer representing the Maliana victims, has also decided to move Allahabad High Court against the Meerut court’s judgment. In the past, he assisted the Srivastava commission during its probe. “The commission submitted its report on July 31, 1989. But the report never saw the light of day,” he said, adding, “The judgment has come on expected lines. There were consistent attempts to derail the trial. The only FIR that was filed in the case in the name of Yakoob Ali, disappeared from the police station. The charge sheet was filed almost twenty years after the incident, in 2008.”
Mohammad Ismail said: “We have complete faith in justice. We will eventually get it—if not from the higher courts then definitely from the court of Allah.”