The Allahabad High Court directed the Uttar Pradesh government on April 19 to file a counter-affidavit in reply to a writ petition (PIL) seeking re-investigation into the alleged killing of 72 Muslims in Meerut’s Maliana village by the UP Provincial Armed Constabulary on May 23, 1987 and into other custodial killings during the 1987 Meerut riots.

The trial in the Maliana case has been going on in a Meerut session court for the last 34 years. According to the petitioners, key documents in the case, including the FIR have gone missing. Over 800 hearing dates have been given since proceedings began. The last hearing took place four years ago.

It was on 22-23 May, 1987 that ghastly killings occurred in Hashimpura mohalla and Maliana village of Meerut district in which more than 120 Muslims were killed by the notorious Provincial Armed Constabulary in Uttar Pradesh. There were also custodial killings of more than 12 Muslims in Meerut and Fatehgarh jails.

The events that led to the horrendous Meerut riots in April, May, June 1987 were as follows: On 14 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 that day. Muslims had arranged a religious sermon near the Hashimpura crossing close to the location of another function, a Mundan in Purwa Shaikhlal in a Hindu family. Some Muslims objected to film songs being played on loudspeakers, which led to a quarrel.

It is alleged that one of the Hindus 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, but tension prevailed, and both sides succeeded in causing further trouble and starting intermittent rioting in Meerut for three months, which resulted, according to government estimates, in the deaths of 174 people and injuries to 171.

In fact, the loss was far more grievous. According to various studies and reports it can be safely asserted that the rioting in Meerut during these three months actually left 350 people dead and property worth crores destroyed.

On 17 May 1987, the incidents that led to the riots and then to the Hashimpura massacre and Maliana carnage took place in Kainchiyan Mohalla. By next day the riots had spread, first to Hapur Road and Pilokheri and then to other areas. On May 19 a curfew was imposed throughout the city.

11 companies of the PAC were added to an estimated 60,000 strong local police. 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 May 22, the riots ceased to be riots and became Police-PAC violence against Muslims.

On that day the PAC indulged in large-scale arson and looting in Hashimpura, and proceeded the next day to Maliana in the outskirts of the city on May 23.

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 that by then sufficient contingents of the 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 homes to the main road. Then it conducted a house-to-house search. All the residents were lined up on the main road and about 50 of them were told to board a PAC truck. Another group of 324 were arrested and taken away in 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.

Of these 42, only six persons were traceable. The 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, the PAC shot them and threw their bodies into the canal. More than 20 bodies were found floating in the canal.

The second instalment of the same incident took place after an hour or so in the Hindon river near the Delhi-UP border, where the rest of the Muslim youth arrested from Hashimpura were killed at point-blank range and their bodies dumped in a similar manner.

The central government headed by Rajiv Gandhi ordered a CBI inquiry into the abduction and shooting of people at the Ganga canal. The CBI began its inquiry on June 28, and after a thorough inquiry submitted its report. However, the report was never officially made public.

Another inquiry by the Crime Branch and CID, headed by Jangi Singh, deputy inspector-general of the UP police, began its probe into the Muradnagar canal incident on June 4, 1987. Its report, submitted to the state government seven years later in October 1994 recommended prosecuting 37 PAC personnel and police officers.

In June 1995, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government in UP gave permission to prosecute 19 of the 37 accused men. Finally, it was 1996 when a chargesheet was filed with the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Ghaziabad under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code [prosecution of public servants].

The following year, it was Mayawati’s government which on 20 May 1997 gave 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 a court of law until 2000.

Thirteen years had passed since the killings when the 16 accused PAC men surrendered before the Ghaziabad court, got bail, and went back to resume their service. Disappointed with the undue delay in the proceedings of the Ghaziabad court, kins of the victims and survivors filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to transfer the case to Delhi where the conditions would be more conducive.

The Supreme Court granted this prayer in 2002. Thereafter, the case was transferred to the Tees Hazari court in Delhi. But the case could not start before November 2004 because the Uttar Pradesh government did not appoint a public prosecutor for the case.

Finally after a long legal battle the Additional Sessions Judge at the Tees Hazari Court delivered a judgment on 21 March 2015 upon completion of the trial of the accused. It held that the evidence adduced by the prosecution was insufficient to record the guilt of the accused for the offences they had been charged with.

It further stated that it was painful to observe that several innocent persons had been traumatised, and their lives taken by State agency, while the investigating agency as well as the prosecution had failed to bring on record reliable material to establish the culprits’ identity. As accused persons facing trial are entitled to the benefit of doubt existing in the prosecution’s case, the court acquitted all the accused of the charges made against them.

The UP government challenged the verdict in the Delhi High Court, which finally on October 31, 2018 overturned trial court’s decision to acquit the 16 policemen of charges of murder and other crimes in the 1987 Hashimpura case in which 42 people were killed. It convicted the 16 Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel as charged and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

The bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel termed the massacre the "targeted killing of unarmed and defenceless people by the police”. It said the families of the victims had to wait 31 years to get justice and monetary relief cannot compensate for their loss. All 16 convicts had retired from service by then.

Only half justice was delivered in the Hashimpura massacre case. It still left many questions unanswered. What about Maliana where 72 Muslims were killed by the 44th battalion of the PAC led by Commandant R.D. Tripathi on May 23, 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 chargesheet by the prosecution, the victims’ kin feel they will not get justice.

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 sessions court. The last hearing was held almost four years ago.

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 nearby villages, suddenly “disappeared” in 2010. The 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 27 May 1987 the UP chief minister announced a judicial inquiry into the Maliana killings. It was finally ordered on August 27, by Justice G.L Srivastava, a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court.

On May 29 the UP government announced the suspension of the PAC commandant who ordered the firing in Maliana. Interestingly, allegations were also made against him during the 1982 Meerut riots. But the fact is that R.D Tripathi was never suspended and instead was awarded promotions in service till his retirement.

Custodial Murders in Jail

According to various reports, more than 2,500 people were arrested during the 1987 Meerut riots, of whom 800 were arrested between May 21 and 25. There were cases of custodial murder inside jails as well. Reports and records of June 3, 1987 suggest that five arrested persons were killed inside Meerut Jail while seven were killed in Fatehgarh jail. All were Muslims. The FIRs registered and case numbers of some of the custodial deaths in Meerut and Fategarh jails are still available.

The state government ordered two other inquiries into these incidents. A magisterial inquiry 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, the IG (Prisons) for U.P. suspended four jail wardens and two jail guards (Behari Lai and Kunj Behari), and two convict warders (Girish Chandra and Daya Ram) were also 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 the Kotwali police station in Meerut. But the FIRs do not list any names, despite certain officials being indicted by the inquiry. So no prosecution has been initiated in the last 34 years.

The Aftermath

After the UP government announced a judicial inquiry into the Maliana incidents under the Commission of Enquiries Act in the last week of May 1987, the Commission headed by Justice G.L Srivastav started its proceedings three months later, on 27 August 1987.

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. The Commission finally submitted its report on 31 July 1989, but it was never made public.

Independently, the government also ordered an administrative inquiry into the riots that took place from May 18 to 22, but they exclude the events in Maliana and the custodial killings in the Meerut and Fatehgarh jails.

The panel, headed by Gian Prakash, former Comptroller and Auditor General of India, consisted of Ghulam Ahmad, a retired IAS official and 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 published the entire report in November 1987.

Now a public interest litigation has been filed before the Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court by this writer, former Director-General of the UP police Vibhuti Narain Rai, a victim, Ismail, who lost his 11 family members at Maliana on 23 May 1987, and a lawyer, M.A Rashid, who conducted the case in a Meerut trial court. It seeks a fair and speedy trial by an SIT and adequate compensation to the victims’ families.

More than three decades on, the Maliana massacre case and other custodial killings in Meerut during the 1987 riots has not progressed much as key court papers have mysteriously gone missing. Petitioners have also accused the UP police and PAC personnel of intimidating victims and witnesses not to depose. After hearing the PIL, Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Yadav and Justice Prakash Padia of the Allahabad High Court last April 19 ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to 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 journalist. He covered the Meerut riots of 1987 for the Sunday and Ravivar weeklies

Chronology of 1987 Hashimpura massacre | India News,The Indian Express