Covering and Reacting to a Tragedy: Some Reflections
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?