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'To promote communal harmony'
Nigar Cinema cases withdrawn 
By Tanveer Saiyed

The BJP-led government of Uttar Pradesh has withdrawn the cases registered against the 10 accused in the Meerut Nigar cinema killings on 20 May 1991, the polling day for parliamentary elections. A total of 19 Muslims were slaughtered, several injured and dozens of shops burnt. This decision has been sought to be justified ‘in public interest for communal harmony.’ Muslims and other justice-loving people have raised their voice against this gross injustice perpetrated in the name of communal harmony. They have warned that this action will only encourage more such crimes since the perpetrators are sure that they will go scot free through the abuse of the legal process.

On that fateful day violence had erupted between the supporters of Janata Dal candidate Harish Pal and BJP’s Amar Pal Singh just before polling for the parliamentary elections. It soon developed into a communal carnage. As a result Lok Sabha elections in the constituency were countermanded. 

According to the FIR lodged by police constable Resal Singh, who was on duty at the time the riot erupted, he heard sounds of shooting coming from the Nigar Cinema while sitting at police post near Budhana Gate. When Resal reached the spot, he saw several dead bodies lying and numerous injured people crying in pain both inside and outside the cinema hall. He also saw that dead bodies were being burnt one after the other near Jatiawara locality.

The case was initially filed against unidentified persons. But the police later identified the culprits. On 2 January 1998, nearly seven years after the incident, additional district judge, AL Varma framed the chargesheet against Sulekh Kumar, Gopal, Sharad Mohan, Sanjiv alias Pappan, Vijay alias Babli, Sanjiv Kumar, Raju, Vishal, Lucky and Gaurav Sanohi in connection with the murders, riots, robbery and arson. The last two accused died later. The trials was yet to begin when this sudden decision was taken by the UP government.

KK Srivastava, special secretary of the UP government, told the court through an official communication that the government wants to withdraw the case. The government counsel filed a petition and the additional district judge, VK Vishnoi, acknowledged the withdrawal on the pretext of ‘larger public interest and communal harmony.’ The case was withdrawn when the evidence was to be recorded. 

On being asked whether the decision was taken under any political pressure, chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta replied that there must be pressures from some leaders. He maintained that Kalyan Singh had taken this decision on 6 November just before quitting as chief minister. Mr Gupta further said that once the case had been withdrawn it could not be revived by the government but the victims’ families could move the court.

The BJP municipal councillor of Meerut, Sulekh Kumar, who owns several shops and shopping complexes, was one of the eight accused in these riots. He has now been acquitted after the UP government withdrew the cases. In an ironical twist he has now purchased the very cinema hall where the crime was committed. He is a self-proclaimed ‘sincere BJP worker’ who had caught the eyes of the then chief minister, Kalyan Singh. He is thankful to Singh for withdrawing the case. He said that Kalyan knew him by name and face as he used to be the most enthusiastic worker whenever the erstwhile chief minister visited Meerut.

Though the history of Meerut is full of communal riots, this one has left an indelible mark on the psyche of Muslims. Innocent Muslims were dragged out of the movie hall, shot at, beaten with sticks, hot rods and stabbed. According to official reports 19 Muslims were killed by fanatics for a sin they never committed. According to eyewitnesses the real toll was 40 dead.

The victims include Rasheed who was the sole bread-earner and father of seven daughters and four sons. Now his widow looks after all of them. They all live from one meal to the next in a two-room tin-covered house at Khairpur in Meerut.

Umar Jan, mother of Mahfuz Ali, another victim painfully says that she cares for nothing now because her own world darkened the day her son died. She is 60 now and Mahfuz was her only son. She has managed to get two of her daughters married. She has two other daughters who are yet to be married.

A medical compounder, Ali Rehbar, who lost his 18-years-old brother, Ali Qamar, in the tragedy, says that he is unable to understand why the government withdrew the cases. ‘Now, miscreants will be encouraged by this biased decision of the government,’ he added.

UP State Congress Committee spokesperson, RK Bhargava, said that the decision has revealed the communal face of Kalyan Singh.

Severely condemning the decision, former Janta Dal MP, M Afzal, said it is not justice but murder of justice. Mr Afzal added that all the eight accused of the killings should have been administered capital punishment in order to avoid any such future perpetration.

Those who have been desperately waiting for justice all these years say that there is no law in the land. It is zulm to let them go scot free and if they were not the guilty then why were they accused in the first place? Withdrawal of the cases is another sign that perpetrators of riots can repeat their crimes with impunity.

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