Maliana acquittals 36 years later reveal failure of justice The acquittals expose a severe breakdown in both substantive and procedural justice

04, Apr 2023 | Teesta Setalvad

It was a Monday morning, yesterday, April 3 that The Times of India, in a lead story, four column headlines announced the bare bone facts: that more than three decades, 900 hearings after 72 persons, all Muslims, were killed in cold blood, a local court acquitted all 39 accused. Advocates for the victim survivor families have alleged to Sandeep Rai of TOI that the judgement was delivered abruptly while evidence was still being led, evidence on the 34 post mortems of the victims had not been heard and the accused had not been examined under section 313 statements of the CrPC (power of court to examine accused to explain evidence adduced against him). 

While survivors will now have recourse to appeal the case in the high court, these allegations of procedural misdemeanour have been refuted by the prosecution. Either way it should be a matter of record if the basic procedural requirements of considering post mortem evidence and recording 313 statements have, or have not been followed by the Magistrate. The Allahabad High Court, too will decide on these crucial matters in the pending public interest litigation file by Qurban Ali and Vibhuti Narain Rai that prays for a re-trial and monitoring of the case. In the famed BEST Bakery case related to the Gujarat carnage of 2002, the Supreme Court had ordered a re-trial and transfer of the case after a summary acquittal by the Vadodara court in June 2003. It is left to be seen if the Allahabad High Court follows this precedent, given that the petitioners had warned the forum of the huge lapses being tolerated in the trial court below.

The Maliana carnage had taken place on May 23, 1987, when hundreds of locals accompanied by a huge contingent of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, had entered the tiny village of Maliana, with guns and swords. All five entry points of the locality were allegedly blocked, and the massacre followed, claiming 72 lives. The day before the police and PAC had rounded up Muslims from a targeted area in Hashimpuira and shot them in cold blood.

The country was reeling under the onslaught of the Lal Krishna Advani’s blood soaked Rath Yatra in the late 1980s, a cynical mobilisation unleashed by the Bharatiya Jaanata Party (BJP) that has reaped huge political dividends after the core Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh-Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) combine “resolved” in 1986 to make the Ram Janmabhoomi (building a Ram temple where the 450 year old Mosque, the Babri Masjid stood) their counter attack on Indian democracy. 

Qurban Ali, a journalist who covered the massacre at the time has narrated the sequence of events in his special article for Sabrangindia, 34 years after the massacre (2021). The district of Meerut had been simmering with tensions since April 1987 (see detailed account by Qurban Ali below) with intra-community clashes in the district and town. Both communities, Hindu and Muslim had suffered losses till this point when to an already existing force of 60,000 local police, 11 companies of the PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) were added. It was at this stage, Ali reports that the character of the riots that had, until then been between two communities, underwent a transformation and became a full-blown Police-PAC (even army) directed targeted violence against Muslims. Rai and other senior officials from India’s law enforcement have analysed this to be clear evidence of the seeping and corrosive phenomenon of the communal mindset within the Indian police and paramilitary. Accompanying the political ascendancy of the Hindutva right, India’s institutions saw the colouring of their functioning and impact by a partisan and unconstitutional worldview. 

On May 22, 1987, in the parallel case of Hasimpura, where more than fifty Muslim youths were picked up by the UP Police and PAC on May 22, 1987, and later were killed in cold blood at the upper Ganga Canal in Murad Nagar and at Hindon river near the UP-Delhi border, the case was transferred to Delhi due to efforts by survivors and rights advocates. The Delhi High Court ultimately convicted sixteen accused PAC personnel and sentenced them to life imprisonment on October 31, 2018 though several others were spared. Maliana in Meerut was hit by violence the next day, May 23, 1987.

Also Read:

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Meerut Mass Carnage: 34 years later, will there be justice?

The TOI report of April 3, 2023 was a ground report. The prosecution counsel, despite it being his responsibility on behalf of the state to ensure that the guilty are punished, Sachin Mohan, additional district counsel, blithely told TOI, “The court of additional district judge (court 6) Lakhvinder Singh Sood on Friday let off 39 accused as the prosecution could not produce enough evidence to prove their involvement in the case.” There were a total of 93 accused, of which 23 had died in the last 36 years of trial and 31 “could not be traced”.

The massacre had claimed 72 lives, all Muslim. According to eyewitnesses, “death was raining from all sides and no one was spared, including children and women.” “One burning child was thrown on a rickshaw while the charred body of a young woman clutching her two children was found inside her burnt dwelling. Eleven members of a single family were shot and thrown into a well,” a witness told TOI on Sunday, April 2. Alauddin Siddiqui, the lawyer for the victim survivors has questioned the sudden judgement and the procedural lapses it reveals. “It is an abrupt decision at a time when proceedings were still on. Hearing on the 34 post-mortems had not taken place and the accused had not been examined under Section 313 of CrPC (power of court to examine accused to explain evidence adduced against him). We will appeal in the HC.”

Survivor: Was carnage a figment of imagination?

Many residents of Maliana have termed the verdict of a local court in Meerut acquitting all 39 accused in the 1987 massacre as “a big setback”. Mohd Yaqub, 63, one of the survivors who had filed the FIR in the case, said, “I could not sleep the whole night after hearing news of the verdict. It has broken our resolve to fight. The macabre dance of death occurred right in front of our eyes. Entire families were wiped out. Yet, we have to keep our faith in the judiciary. Was this carnage a figment of our imagination?”

Residents have also recalled the events of that summer of 1987. On April 14, 1987, during the local Nauchandi fair, a cop on duty was struck by a firecracker after which he allegedly opened fire and two Muslims were killed. Another incident near the Hashimpura crossing in Meerut added fuel to the fire when an altercation over film songs being played at a religious function led to a clash between Hindu and Muslim groups that snowballed into arson, looting and rioting. Then, on May 22, 1987, a day before the Maliana carnage, another massacre took place in which 42 Muslims were rounded up by personnel from the PAC from the Hashimpura area in Meerut, taken to Upper Ganga canal at Muradnagar in Ghaziabad, shot and thrown into the water body. Though the verdict in the Hashimpura massacre was delivered by a Delhi court in 2018, leading to the conviction of 16 ex-PAC men. Neither the “FIR nor the Trial Court verdict in the Maliana verdict case have the PAC even been tried as accused,” commented Ali to Sabrangindia. He is confident that when the case does soon come up before the High Court, serious attempts will be made to set issues straight and get justice done.

“I was one of those who were rounded up and mercilessly beaten as the massacre was still on in which without any provocation, the PAC men began attacking houses while the mob indulged in looting and rioting,” he said, adding that his ribs were broken and he was in intense pain. “I was made to sign the police complaint and didn’t even know what was written in it. It was quite later I came to know 93 Hindus had been named in the FIR and there was no mention of PAC personnel at all,” Yaqub was quoted by TOI.

Failure of Justice, Substantive and Procedural:

The public interest litigation (PIL) was been filed before the Division Bench of Allahabad high court by Qurban Ali who penned this story for Sabrangindia and former Director-General of Uttar Pradesh police, Vibhuti Narain Rai IPS, a victim Ismail, who lost his 11 family members at Maliana on May 23, 1987 is the third petitioner. The fourth petitioner is a lawyer M A Rashid, who conducted the case in a Meerut trial court; the petition seeks a fair and speedy trial by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) as also commensurate reparation/ compensation to the families of victims. 

A division Bench of the Allahabad High Court on April 19, 2021 passed an order directing the state of Uttar Pradesh to file a reply as a counter-affidavit to the PIL after which a 800 page affidavit was filed by the state of Uttar Pradesh now under BJP’s Adityanath rule. Petitioners Qurban Ali and others have now filed their reply to this counter affidavit of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Pleadings are now complete and the final hearing is expected soon.

In this PIL in 2021, the petitioners had pointed out that for over three decades the trial court at Meerut was at a standstill because the court papers, including the FIR of the case, were mysteriously missing. In the meantime, UP Police and PAC personnel were accused of intimidating victims and witnesses not to depose. The trial had then been going on in the Maliana case in a session court in Meerut for the last 34 years. According to the petitioners, in this case, key documents, including the FIR, had gone missing, more than 800 dates have been given since proceedings began. At the time of filing of the PIL, the last hearing had taken place four years ago, in 2017! The decades since the massacre had seen governments of all hues, ideologies and colours rule Uttar Pradesh from the erstwhile rule of the Congress party in the 1980s to the subsequent rules by the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP. None of these governments really ensured that exemplary justice would see the light of day in this case.

Long and Tortuous Road to Justice: In the May 22, 1987 Hashimpura massacre case in which Vibhuti Narain Rai, then SP, Ghaziabad is the complainant in the FIR, after a prolonged court process of more than thirty years, Delhi high court pronounced its judgment in the Hashimpura massacre case on October 31, 2018. It overturned a trial court’s decision to acquit 16 policemen of charges of murder and other crimes in the 1987 Hashimpura case in which 42 people were killed. The high court convicted the 16 Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) officials charged, and sentenced them to life imprisonment. A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel reversed a trial court’s verdict which had acquitted the accused. The high court termed the massacre “targeted killing” of unarmed and defenceless people by the police. While sentencing all the convicts to life imprisonment, the court said the families of the victims had to wait 31 years to get justice and monetary relief cannot compensate for their loss. 

Though some measure of justice was done, the process has still left many questions unanswered: What about the Maliana killings where 72 Muslims were killed by the 44th battalion of PAC led by Commandant R D Tripathi on May 23rd 1987? These incidents took place the day following the Hashimpura killings.

Background: Journalists’ Eye witness account

Ali writes in Sabrangindia in 2021, “From May 19 to 23, the entire town of Meerut was under a curfew. On May 22, Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) rounded up several hundred Muslim men in the Hashimpura area of Meerut. Though not clear, 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 houses to the main Road. Then a house to house search was conducted. All residents were lined up on the main road and about 50 of them were asked to board a PAC truck. Another group of 324 were arrested and taken by other police vehicles. Most of the arrested were taken to the police station or jail but around a hundred men were driven to the Upper Ganga Canal. Once at the canal, the PAC lined up the man, shot them one by one, and threw their bodies in the water. The floating bodies were discovered after a few days, and two survivors chronicled the massacre. The Times of India then had commented:  “Here is a clear case of an organ of the state going out with cold-blooded calculation to raid and roundup a whole group of citizens, whisk them away, shoot them while in custody and then throw their bodies into the river.” The Hashimpura mass targeted killings is one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the Indian state depicting a callousness of unprecedented proportions. It was also an incident of mass custodial killing in the history of independent India.

What the police did in Hashimpura is something that can never be lived down and the shame of this will continue to haunt any civilised 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. Out of 42, only 6 persons were traceable, 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, they were shot by the PAC and their bodies thrown 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 at the Hindon river near the Delhi-U.P. 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.

Maliana a village in Meerut: The following day, the PAC arrived in the village of Maliana, under the pretext that Muslims from Meerut were hiding in the area. The PAC went on a Rampage, deliberately shooting unarmed men, women and children and burning some of the victims alive in their own houses. Eighty (80) bodies were found in the area believed to be those of victims of these killings. 

“An exact count of the number of dead as the result of the Meerut/Maliana massacre is still not known, although most experts agree that dozens of people were killed. According to official figures, from May 19 to 23, 117 people were killed, 159 persons injured, and 623 houses, 344 shops and 14 factories were looted, burned and destroyed. Another report notes that in the first three or four days of the riot, 51 Hindus were killed, and from May 21 to 25 at least 295 Muslims were killed, almost all by or under the active supervision of the police and the PAC. Violence, including bomb explosions and isolated incidents of killing and stabbing, continued until June 15. 

“Those killed in the Meerut/Maliana massacre were Muslims. Their guilt or innocence of any kind was never an issue. Rather, the men who were killed at the upper Ganga Canal were picked up and arrested for one reason: They were Muslims. In Maliana, the killings were carried out in an entirely indiscriminate manner, with no regard for the gender or age of the victims. The Meerut/Maliana massacre was a genocidal massacre targeted against a particular ethno-religious group, clear and simple.”

Amidst the failure to deliver justice, substantive and procedural in so many cases of targeted mass crimes, where the victims are from India’s most marginalised sections, the recently concluded and hurried verdict –after a stalled trial –in the Maliana 1987 carnage case, is the sad but sorry latest. It is reflective of the deeply corrosive reality within India’s criminal justice system that denies any sense of justice to its people.

Image Courtesy:


Hashimpura a Blot and Shame, The Importance of Memory: Vibhuti Narain Rai
The Lemmings of Hashimpura – Vibhuti Narain Rai, retired officer of the Indian Police Force (IPS)
16 PAC Personnel Guilty of Targeted Murder: Delhi HC in Hashimpura Custodial Killings, 1987 


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