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Meerut revisited - iii

Umar Jan, mother of Mahfooz Ali, 
one of the victim of Nigar Cinema riot 

Fahim: Nigar Cinema survivor (right); 
Munni Begum (left)

Frustration, agony and fear are the only things on the minds of Nigar Cinema victims, S Ubaidur Rahman finds out. 

Rashid, father of seven daughters was murdered in cold blood while the sun with its full scorching heat was still furiously ablaze. He left an aged and fragile widow to look after them. Though the police version says that only 19 people were killed at the same time when Rashid was killed, eye witnesses claim that at least two hundred people were murdered. 

It is not too long when the incident occurred. Slightly over ten years. But steps have been taken to ensure that the no justice is imparted to the aggrieved people. And no perpetrator of the crime is booked or punished. Cases were thrown out of the ambit of the court by the government while the courts leisurely looked away from this total disregard of the law. Meanwhile, family members of those killed during the infamous Nigar Cinema incident continue to fend for themselves. There is no iota of justice for them. Nothing has been done to heal their wounds. 

Muhammad Fahim one of the few survivors, who snatched life from the jaws of death, still shivers while recounting as to what happened on the spot on that fateful day. 

It was 21 May of 1991 and the polling for assembly and Parliament elections held simultaneously was on in the Dharmshala near Nigar Cinema. Everything was very smooth till son of a BJP leader accused another person of interfering and obstructing in the polling. There was nothing of this sort. On the contrary that person was himself trying to obstruct polling. It was not an important thing and it usually happens at every polling booth. I was canvassing for Janata Dal and was there since the morning. But what happened a little bit later had not occurred even in anyone's wildest imagination. 

A few minutes later the same guy with his father and a large contingent of RSS and BJP workers came. What gave credence to the fact that the unprecedented killings that followed were pre-planned is the fact that they took arms from a tea shop just nearby.

In the meanwhile the people who were inside, closed the door of the Dharmshala from inside. These people started firing and killing the Muslims who were outside. The terrified people who tried to enter the neighbouring Nigar Cinema were the easiest target. They were butchered inside and dragged onto the streets.

Faheem who witnessed all this happen says that when he saw the marauders enter the Dharmshala premises, he asked around a dozen Muslim women who were wearing veils, to throw their veils. The marauders had seen them and were trying to forcibly take them away. It was just in the nick of the time that the wife of the priest took them inside her home that was situated inside the Dharmshala. Faheem says that in the meanwhile , men were kicked, tortured and killed in and outside the building.

It seems just a new life, recalls shivering Fahim. It was frustratingly annoying to prod Fahim to speak out, who not only suffered badly at the hands of the goons but also lost his house that was set ablaze. Fear has taken its toll too badly on his mind. He says that earlier he refused to divulge as to what happened to him before the media as he did not want to bring everything afresh in his memories. As he later said he also feared backlash from people like Sulekha and other Sangh and BJP people who led the rioters on that day. 

He was first beaten with sticks. He says there were dozens of fractures on his body when he was able to reach the hospital. He was also attacked with daggers. Fahim lost any hope when Sulekha, a well known city goon and a BJP councillor in the Meerut Municipal Corporation took out his country-made revolver and thrust it inside his mouth. 

Fahim as he told this correspondent, lost any hope, closed his eyes and whispered his final 'prayers'. 'Jab usne mere muh me revolver dala to maine koshish karke use hata kar dua aur kalma parha aur ankhen band karleen, recounts Faheem.' But fortunately the country-made revolver refused to act on time. Though it saved his life, but prompted them to assault him with their full fury. He just regained his consciousness and crawled to the door where he got help from a police officer and was loaded on a police van. 

The police response could be gauged from the fact that a bullet hit Faheem while he was being loaded on the van. When he asked the policemen to fire back, they responded shamelessly that if they fire they would be killed, he recounts. 

The case was initially filed against unidentified persons. But the police later identified the culprits. On January 2, 1998 nearly seven years after the incident, additional district judge, A.L. Varma registered chargesheet against Sulekh Kumar, Gopal, Sharad Mohan, Sanjiv alias Pappan, Vijay alias Babli, Sanjiv Kumar, Raju, Vishal, Lucky and Gaurav Sanohi in connection with murder, riots, robbery and arson. 

The official reports say that only 19 people were killed, but locals particularly those who were there on the spot or who visited the site say that more than 250 people were killed. Faheem, when he reached the hospital and identified as Muslim by doctors there, was thrown among the piles of dead bodies, despite the full knowledge of the doctors that he was conscious and alive. When he was asked as to how many bodies were there, he feels confused, but says that there were at least three halls full of dead bodies of Muslims. Munni Begum whose husband, Rashid was killed in the Dharmshala near Nigar Cinema hall when confronted with the question, says 'when I reached the hospital to search for my husband's body, I failed to find my husband's body in the pile of bodies lying on the floor in three large halls.' 'There must be at least three hundred bodies', she adds. Her husband's body was recovered by chance when some of her relatives found him in the middle of the pile. 

Maulana Amin, the man who is also looking after this case in different courts besides all other cases of riots in Meerut and who has tried to revive the legal process when the government directed the court to quash the case, says that there were more than fifteen to twenty times more deaths than shown by the government. He was the person who led the death prayers of dozens of victims. He says that there were just 17 coffins and 34 bodies. He said that they had to keep two bodies in one coffin. He says that later he was told by the keeper of the graveyard that several bodies were set on fire by the police personnel in nearby area. 

What is more tormenting is the fact that a few people who were even indicted in those murderous riots were left scot-free by the government and the court. Sulekha and his accomplices are still there but there is no one to punish them for the horrible crimes they committed against hapless people.

The BJP government of UP in 1999 under former chief minister Gupta withdrew the cases registered against 10 persons in Meerut Nigar cinema killings. The agile chief minister admitted shamelessly that there may be some pressure from some quarters on decision to withdraw the cases. Though the legal cases were revived when a counter petition was filed in the court, there appears to be no justice in sight.

Meanwhile the people who lost everything in those well-planned riots are suffering endlessly. There were some paltry compensations for people who lost their lives, but it was all. 'No one ever asked me as to how I manage with my seven daughters without any earning member', wails Munni Begum. In a narrow tunnel-like lane she sells some essentials in a corner of her house. 'It gives nothing. I married my daughter with great difficulty', she said.

Faheem who spent around fifty thousand rupees on his treatment after shifting to another hospital from the government hospital when he was found by his relatives, never received anything for his ordeal. Tens of other families are without any earning member. They too went without any compensation. But amazingly it is the last thing on their minds.

I have been going around in the courts not to get compensation says Munni Begum, but to get the people who killed my husband and hundreds of other innocents, booked and punished. 'The thoughts as to how they would have tortured my husband and killed him make me shiver’ adds she. It seems horrible to think that the people who killed my husband and scores of others and who are roaming scot-free might again indulge in the same acts they did a decade ago', Munni Begum says.

Yusuf Quraishi, a well known philanthropist and a senior city politician who is a co-petitioner with Munni Begum in this case says that it is unfortunate that those people who indulged in unprovoked torture, killings and arson are still going around freely. He says that the way the state government quashed cases against them could happen only in our country. These goons have lengthy criminal records and there are people who survived their torture and can testify against them, but nothing is being done to punish them. 

Others too feel let down. People are getting disenchanted over the totally indifferent attitude of the government and the courts. They are no longer interested in running from pillar to post to get justice. They have lost trust in both, the government and the judiciary. Something should immediately be done to restore their trust.

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