Dear reader, this text is published in the spirit of open-access as part of our new project entitled The Funambulist Correspondents. Every week for a bit over a year, we will publish a text written by one of our 28 commissioned correspondents in as many places of the world. The project is made possible through generous support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
Ismail’s family was preparing for celebrations as the wedding of a loved one drew closer. They were planning a lavish feast, the children had bought new clothes, and everyone was excited for the days to come. Ismail was the busiest with the responsibility of ensuring that everything was perfectly arranged as his younger brother enters a new chapter of his life.
On May 23, 1987, three days before his brother’s wedding, Ismail cheerfully left his home, saying goodbye to his parents. He had no idea that it was his last farewell and that he would never be able to see his family or return home again.
“Everything vanished in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing behind. My grandfather, father, and siblings were among the 11 people cruelly murdered in my family. All the bodies were dumped in the well of our house.”Ismail
His house was one among the 106 houses that were burned down, majority of them with the residents inside, resulting in the annihilation of entire families in targeted violence described by Muslims as a direct attack against them by the personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC)-backed Hindu mob in the Maliana neighborhood in the outskirts of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.
The violence was unleashed in the twin Muslim villages, Hashimpura and Maliana, where the PAC apprehended and killed over a hundred Muslims. While justice was served in the Hashimpura killings 31 years later in October 2018, the Maliana case remains unresolved in Meerut’s trial court.
Wakeel Ahmad, who was in his twenties at the time, remembers the events of that day vividly. He says that they were attacked despite the fact that there was no violence in the area. He maintains that everything seemed to be normal around 9:00 am, as the region had been quiet until then. However, at about 10:00 or 11:00 am, the wine shop nearby was robbed by locals.
“Then, around 12:30 or 1:00 pm, a police informer named Kalu came to tell us that the police were entering Maliana and that young people would be arrested. The PAC had invaded the town square while we were still deciding what to do. Men, who were outdoors offering namaaz or in the market, were arrested and beaten up by the PAC personnel. Those who attempted to inquire were also thrashed mercilessly. The police opened fire when we tried to stop them from arresting us, killing two people in the process. Both of them were killed with a single bullet. I fled to the terrace when they were shot. I was terrified.”Wakeel Ahmad
He further observes that the residents of the surrounding Harijan basti began killing Muslims as well, although they did so only after the PAC opened fire.
“Looting and burning of homes began. Soon the violence became more intense, and a man named Ashraf was shot in front of me. I was also hit by a gunshot while trying to look at the dreadful events from my roof. My children caught hold of me… and all I could hear were voices.”Wakeel Ahmad
Despite being wounded, he did not lose consciousness and could understand what was happening around him. He recalls the mobsters instructing one another to “get their hands on a girl named Shahana by grabbing her by her hair.” What happened to her a few moments later is unfathomable. Ahmad mentions that after she was raped and attacked with a sword, her intestines were dangling from her abdomen.
There was heavy shooting for two and a half hours, and he wrapped a blanket around himself and lay there ready to die. He did not think that he would survive. His mother-in-law spotted him writhing in pain and asked two men to rescue him.
“They took me to a nearby stream on a charpoy. I was fully awake and aware that this was my final day. I felt as if I was seeing everything for the last time.”Wakeel Ahmad
When he arrived at the stream, other injured people had already been brought there.
“I saw Muslims weeping and groaning in agony. Higher-ranking officials, such as the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), had arrived as well. All the injured were loaded into the back of a truck. The police van took us first to the nearest police station, where our information was recorded, and then we were transferred to the hospital for treatment. We were taken to the emergency room and given injections. The next day, I learned that two of the 26 injured had died. My surgery was successful, and one of my kidneys was removed. After a month, I was released and returned to Maliana, where the situation remained tense.”Wakeel Ahmad
A journalist and an eyewitness asserts that the incident should not be referred to as “rioting” as only the Muslim community was attacked, killed, and looted.
“In communal riots, two opposing parties attack each other. But in this case, only Muslims were killed, only Muslim houses were set on fire, only Muslim survivors who continue to wait for justice. The other community was not harmed, and no one was injured. So, how could this episode be called a “riot”?”A journalist and an eyewitness to the Maliana Massacre
He also highlighted that a photographer from a local newspaper had taken some photographs of the gruesome violence, but the police spotted him and asked him to delete those photographs.
“The additional photographs taken during that time are part of the commission. We still do not have a photograph of the incident.”A journalist and an eyewitness to the Maliana Massacre
Rayees Ahmad was 25 and was sitting in his bedroom when he was shot. He fought for his life in the hospital for about a month and a half. His father was killed in the violence, and his mortal remains were never located.
“I was home, observing the violence from the window of my bedroom. Many of my friends were also shot; some died, while others were paralyzed. We realized much later that my father had been murdered. I went looking for him. I could not find him or any trace of his body.”Rayees Ahmad
He reveals that he received nothing from the government except a measly sum of INR 500 at the time of his treatment.
“35 years have passed and nothing has happened. I have, therefore, absolutely no hope that justice will be served. Majority of the mobsters who will be found responsible have already died of natural causes by now. 35 years have passed, and I have, perhaps, another 10 to 20 years on the horizon.”Rayees Ahmad
Nawab-din lost his entire family as well as his home, and the police are yet to file a First Information Report (FIR). On that fateful day, he and his sister, the only survivors in their family, hid in a neighbor’s home and shut the door when they observed a swarm of mobsters approaching them.
“When we left the apartment around 4:00 pm, there was smoke everywhere — we could even see it float in our room. As soon as we were able to step outside, we noticed my parents’ charred bodies. They were lying upside down with one side completely burned, as if someone had sprayed them with gasoline and set them on fire. Their bodies were later taken away by the police, and I never found them again. We did not even bury them; we could not. We have no idea what the cops did with my dear parents’ bodies.”Nawab-din
With anguish in his voice, he remarks that in the last 35 years, no thorough investigation has been conducted, and since the massacre, nearly five governments have come and gone, yet none bothered to provide justice to the victims.
“We want the guilty to be punished and the victims’ families to receive the promised INR 5 lac in compensation.”Nawab-din
His wife Mehmooda appears distraught. She claims that her in-laws locked her and her children in a room to save their lives as the mob burned down houses and killed people.
“The next day I came to know that my in-laws had been murdered. My husband told me everything. Our house was reduced to ashes, and I could not even see their bodies. The mere thought of it sends shivers down my spine. When nothing has been done in the last 35 years, what can we expect now? We have left that neighborhood out of fear.”Mehmooda
According to Mohammad Binyamin, who lived in the Sanjay community, their Dalit neighbors had already urged them to run to their homes for safety if mobs attacked the neighborhood.
“While moving to my neighbors’, I saw the mob. I was afraid that if I went inside, they would kill me as well as my neighbors’ family. So I hid beneath a cot and stayed there. My father was killed and thrown from the rooftop. The mobsters were carrying a can of gasoline. In our colony, they killed at least nine Muslims. When I left their house at 4:00 pm, I was stopped by the PAC forces outside. I told the police officer that I want to bring the bodies of my family members, and he replied that he would not be responsible if anything bad happened to me. I did not go looking for bodies. The cops took the bodies and I haven’t seen my father’s body since.”Mohammad Binyamin
When Mohammad Yaqoob began narrating his ordeal, tears ran down his face. He recounted that he was dragged to the police station and was beaten up in a callous manner.
“My ribs, legs, and feet were broken, and my skull was struck. My body was drenched in blood. I had not yet broken my fast as it was the month of Ramadan. My tongue was parched.”Mohammad Yaqoob
He says that the PAC officers were about to kill him and a few others, but a local policeman came to their rescue.
“He advised us that if we wanted to save ourselves, we should sit in his vehicle. He took us to a police station and told the officer not to touch us before leaving to help others. I felt as if I had lost almost all of my blood. One of my relatives came looking for me. He took my hands in his and offered me tea.”Mohammad Yaqoob
The emergency room was packed with injured people, and as he was ready to be treated, some reporters approached him and inquired about what had happened.
“When I began to tell them what I had to endure, some policemen in plain clothes confiscated their camera and pushed me away, stating that I was talking too much. I was forced to remain outside, weeping in agony. I remember that when I was unconscious, an FIR was registered in the morning, and my thumb impression was taken on the report as well. That FIR has vanished now.”Mohammad Yaqoob
“My son was burned alive after being thrown into a fire. It was after three days that I could discover him among the ashes. When the mob approached the room where we were staying, away from our home, we began to rush towards the town square, but my toddler ran in the opposite direction and was captured by the mob. We were later given a compensation of INR 20 thousand twice. Will that bring my son back? If you come and look at the walls of one of our rooms, you can still find the bullet marks.”Munny
According to lawyer Allaudin Sidique, the presiding authorities are unwilling to pursue the case because a majority of the defendants are non-Muslims or Hindus.
“Moreover, if one of the four accused in a criminal case fails to appear, the case will not be heard that day. There are currently 93 defendants, and if one or two do not appear on that day, the court can easily adjourn the case and set a new date in the following two or three months.”Allaudin Sidique
He states that several FIRs have vanished and the defense lawyers are using this as an excuse to unnecessarily prolong the case. They claim that if there is no evidence, the case would be lost. “I have also suggested that witnesses who have been injured should be given some leeway,” he adds.
Sidique is certain that the case is clear and that the accused will have to face the law.
“There are 36 post-mortem reports in the file, indicating that those people have died, which no one can deny. Shahana had her abdomen torn open with a sword inside her home. Additionally, there have been reports of injuries and witnesses have named the accused as well. How can the accused get away?”Allaudin Sidique
The lawyer describes that an investigation was set up in the form of the Justice G. L. Shrivastava Commission, but they do not know what happened to the report, and political parties, particularly the Samajwadi Party, only took advantage of the situation.
“During his speeches, Azam Khan always highlighted the plight of Maliana and Hashimpura. He was not allowed to come here, but he did so multiple times and promised that there will be justice. When he was finally elected to serve as a minister in the state government, we approached him and reminded him of his commitments. He advised me to put these things behind and move on. All of the country’s leaders have visited Maliana, from V.P. Singh to Rahul Gandhi, even L.K. Advani. Everyone showed up and made promises to deliver justice. However, neither the administration nor the courts have shown any interest in honoring the need for justice.”Allaudin Sidique
Zaheer-ud-din, who helped several survivors in filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and arranging lawyers for their cases, believes that justice will be served only if Maliana’s case is taken to Delhi or somewhere outside of Uttar Pradesh.
“If this is not done, the case will continue to drag until all the eyewitnesses pass away. The cases would perish on their own. There would be no justice in this situation.”Zaheer-ud-din