PUCL Bulletin,

October 1988

Covering and Reacting to a Tragedy: Some Reflections
Meerut's communal holocaust

By K. C. Gupta and S. K. Mittal

The three-month long intermittent riding in Meerut (May-July, 1987) resulted, according to government estimates, in the death of 17f4 persons and injuries to 171, subsequently, Rs. 1,41,24,550/- were paid as compensation up to the time of penning this article. In fact, the loss was for more grevious. Having analysed various studies, including that of the Jamait-e-Islami, we can safely assert that the rioting actually left 350 dead and property worth Rs. 10 crores destroyed - staggering figures, indeed.

Multi Dimensional Tragedy
Meerut's communal holocaust was a multi-dimensional tragedy. Apart from the horrendous physical loss, the grimness of the tragedy lay in the fact that the communal divide was complete. Foreign powers sought to exaggerate Meerut's tragedy in order to malign India. Even more soul-searching was the fact that the press coverage tended to be sensational, not factual and sober. Simultaneously, the political and societal leaders, oblivious of human misery, concerned themselves with politicking, buttering their bread, and scoring debating points. Their actions and statements seldom went beyond 'vote catching' devices and populism. And, to cap it all, even more mindlessness was exhibited by leaders who did not want to draw the proper lessons from this holocaust and turned to a blind eye to the obvious assault on India's unity and integrity.

The Meerut riots occupied copious space in the print media. Following excerpts highlight the irresponsible and sensationalist approach of those who wrote on the subject. Nikhil Chakravarty's article 'Hitlerites Barbarities' compared the 'massacre' of Muslims in Meerut with 'Nazi pogroms against the Jews'. Kuldip Nayar, compared the 'Maliana carnage' with Nellie Rajni Kothari spoke of the same incident as a 'clear case of ethnocide'. For M. J. Akber the PAC's actions in Maliana were 'Fascism at its worst,' while The Telegraph reported 'PAC' Jawans shot dead 200 in Hasnimpura. The Hindu correspondent found 'Maliana stinking of rotten flesh' even after a fort night. Carried away by such harrowing reports, 24 prominent Indian citizens including I. K. Gujral, P. N. Haksar, Badruddin Tayabji, M. K. Rasgotra, and M. S. Agwani, issued a joint statement demanding the setting up of 'special courts' for prosecuting PAC and police personnel on charges of 'treason'. The Muslim India in its October, 1987 issue reproduced an article from Impact International under the caption "Genocide in Instalments, Muslim Killing as an instrument of policy". These excerpts are illustrative, not exhaustive.

The Beginning of the Tragedy

Large scale rioting began in the early hours of May 19, and the maximum damage was done just in course of a few hours. On that fateful morning, thousands of people, already incited by inflammatory speeches and slogans broadcast over public address system in mosques, barricaded the national highway, burnt 14 factories, hundreds of shops and houses, vehicles, and petrol pump, and cast scores of people into flames. The sporadic Hindu reaction was revengeful. Meerut continued in flames between May 19 and May 22, with murder, loot, explosions, and wild rumours further fuelling violence. With the panic-stricken administration and police rendered helpless, the PAC, the CRPF and, later, even the Army was deployed. Inspite of all these desparate measures, the situation remained explosive. Even the Kotwali police station in which the I. G. (Police) was conferring with his subordinates, was subjected to firing.

Apparently, the national press did not deem the situation serious enough to merit attention. It awoke from its stupor only when the Maliana incident occurred, on May, 23. A few days later, some dead bodies found floating in the Ganga canal confirmed reports of PAC atrocities. However, the bodies were presumably of persons reportedly missing from Hashimpura locality. Though the Hashimpura and Maliana incidents observed the press, in our view, there were five major incidents demanding a special probe which will reveal significant aspects of this tragedy. There were, the events of the morning of May 19 (briefly narrated above), Maliana, Hashimpura, the Daulatpur-Kushaoli murders, and killings of bus passengers.

The facts, as have come to light, about Maliana are that rioting had already occurred in the neighbouring localities of Maliana on May 21 and 22, leaving about 40 persons dead, but the further flare-up on May 23 in Maliana itself resulted in the death of 7 persons by 1.30 P. M. An hour later, when the police and the PAC arrived, they were prevented from entering the locality and conducting searchers. They were fired upon by someone from a mosque. Hindu rioters indulged in arson and loot in the presence of police/PAC; the latter opened fire and killed three persons. In all, not more than 30 persons lost their lives. Many Muslims of Maliana refer to the fact of rioting and feel that the presence of the police/PAC emboldened the Hindu rioters. On May 24 and 25, some 103 Hindus were arrested, and their property looted and vandalised.

The press and public figures sensationalized the Maliana incident, they characterised it as the cold-blooded massacre of Muslims by the PAC, a re-enacting of Jallianwalla Bagh or Nellie. Pressmen were taken in by the accounts narrated by two local activists of the babri Masjid Action Committee, Bashir Khan and Aijaz Ahmed Siddiqi. The former claimed Rs. 20,000/- as compensation for a person subsequently found alive. The latter kept on varying his versions. He first claimed 111 missing and 10 dead, changed it to 67 missing and 22 dead, told the Indian People's Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) that a total of 73 were killed of whom some were shot dead by the PAC, and finally testified before the judicial inquiry that only 2 persons died in the PAC firing.

Reporting Maliana
There is more evidence of this sensationalization. Seven responsible opposition Members of Parliament (who were prevented from touring the city by the administration) accused the PAC of indulging in "unprecedented carnage", and of "attacking men, women and children indiscriminately during searches". Kuldip Nayar claims that after his visit to Maliana he found "practically no house was without bullet marks and no household which had not lost at least one family member". (If true, this would imply at least 3300 dead by PAC bullets). Udayan Sharma, editor, Ravivar, accused the PAC of shooting 70 persons dead and burning them along with their houses, on May 23. The Telegraph listed 67 as massacred, and added, "the final tally could well be higher because many bereaved may have run away in fear. "(In fact, this list includes those who had died between May 21 and 23 in Maliana and neighbouring localities).

Turning to Hashimpura, facts indicate that on May 22, house-to-house searches were conducted in the presence of Army Personnel. Some 366 persons were taken away (the administration admitted arresting 324); many were beaten severely. Of these, five died in the Fatehgar Jail. 32 of the 366 detained were subsequently found missing. Later on, 18 bodies were recovered from the Ganga canal; 14 of these were identified by relatives. Rumours have it that all the 32 missing were exterminated and their bodies thrown into the canal. There are 5,lucky survivors available to narrate the tragedy, but only a judicial probe can ascertain facts.

In the concerned quarters, the reaction was strong and prompt. Mr. Subramanium Swamy', the then Lok Dal (A) leader, characterised this incident as 'state sponsored genocide', and went on a fast unto death at the Boat Club, Delhi to press for an enquiry. Mr. Chandrashekar, the than Janata Party President, produced a fortunate survivor before pressmen. Syed Sahabuddin informed the Prime Minister that 'close to 200 people had been killed by the PAC' in a gruesome, cold-blooded massacre. The Telegraph claimed a similar disaster and also reported 'women raped' Quarban Ali of Ravivar reported 300 dead and their bodies disposed of in the Ganga and the Hindon. The People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) reported 611 arrests from Hashimpura.

Admittedly, the treatment meted out to the residents of Hashimpura was reprehensible and unimaginable in a democratic and secular policy. Nevertheless, leading articles as well as reportings exaggerated the figures and also failed to tell the whole truth. They figures and also failed to tell the whole truth. They ignored the fact that the Muslim localities bordering Hapur Road - Hashimpura, Imliyan, Islamabad, Zakir Colony, etc., provided the mob which started the rioting, destruction and killing on May 19. It was at Hashimpura that a PAC jawan's rifle was snatched, and subsequently 300 litres of sulphuric acid recovered. When the authors accompanied the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) team to Hashimpura for firing at the adjoining Hindu locality of Subhashnagar, where three persons were killed and five injured. Besides, the media failed to stress the fact that it was the Muslims who resisted the police/PAC efforts to discharge their duties, and fired at them. This occurred in Hashimpura on the 18th night and 19th morning.

The Daulatpur-Kushaoli incident merits attention as it exposes the depth of the communal virus. On June 7, about a dozen people in police uniforms (some actually in police service), wandered in the country-side, 'arrested' 6 Hindu peasants, poured acid in their eyes and mouths, cut their genitals and threw their bodies, bound in pairs, into the Gang canal. These corpses were found floating on June 9 and 10 at Bholaki-jal, and near Jani and Moradnagar. Two of this spurious police gang-Hanif and Samoon-were killed in a police encounter near Deoband. Police uniforms were recovered from them. Another member, Ali Hasan, was arrested only on April 21, 1988, while others are yet untraced. The national press did not even report this ghastly incident.

Communal Terrorism
Another very serious incident where communalism ran amuck occurred between Valeedpur village and Sakoti-Tanda, 15 Kms from Meerut. On July 23, some Hindu fanatics stopped a public bus and killed 7 innocent members of the minority community. The moral was clear-if communal violence were not checked at the initial stage, it might develop into communal terrorism.

Distorted Perception
Curiously enough, social leaders and the press ignored the fact of overall communal violence and distorted the entire issue into police/PAC confrontation with the minority community. Even IPHRC, ignoring the total context, turned its focus only on PAC excesses against the Muslims. The Amnesty International too in its 7500 words report on Meerut riots devoted only 236 words to the crucial events of May 19 which decisively determined all the subsequent happenings. This initial large-scale communal violence, which was premeditated, pre-planned and organised, was almost forgotten by the national press, politicians, public-spirited activists and organisations. All failed to condemn it in no uncertain words. The Muslim communalists and ultra secularists took up cudgels only against the PAC. Without defending anyone's unlawful behaviour, be it PAC or any other constituent, we urge upon all to see things in totality. One sided perspective, even born of lofty idealism, only helps to exacerbate such complex situation as communal violence.

Rocks Ahead
Those who hold nation's unity and integrity dear to heart must think beyond and of the frightening portends. The Muslim youth, talk of teaching Hindus a lesson if PAC was removed. Hindus too, have lost faith in the machinery of law and order and talk of arming themselves. Are not rocks ahead?


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