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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

"I want Muslim dead bodies"

The Milli Gazette Online 

"I want the dead bodies of Muslim bastards!" The command over the walkie-talkie was clear and loud. It came from a high level police officer. His subordinate heeded to his call and presented him with a "Muslim dead body". It was the body of an 11-year-old girl riddled with bullets. This happened in 1991 and the police officer who had clamoured for Muslim dead bodies is none other Raman Srivastava, newly appointed chief of Kerala police, B. F. FIROS reports from Calicut

It’s been more than 14 years since an innocent girl was shot dead at the behest of a ruthless police officer. Instead of punishing the guilty, the government has been trying to protect him. Moreover, with the recent appointment of the officer, Raman Srivastava, as the Kerala police chief, all hopes of justice for Sirajunissa’s bereaved family have been dashed. 

It was 1991. The Sangh Parivar had just started to show its fangs and claws, the time when it was trying its best to extract the maximum out of the Ram Mandir issue. The then chief of BJP, Murli Manohar Joshi, was on his Ekta Yatra from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. Joshi’s Yatra traversed through the interiors of India igniting communal passions and thereby strengthening the footholds of Sangh Parivar. 

Raman Srivastava

Raman Srivastava

On December 13 an Upayatra which was to join Joshi’s Ekata Yatra was attacked in Mepparambu, two kilometers away from Palakkad in Kerala. The Yatra was led by the state president of BJP’s youth wing. As the Sangh Parivar wished, tension erupted in some parts of the district causing ripples in the hitherto peaceful waters of Palakkad’s communal life. A tense situation prevailed the next day as Muslims and the BJP activists mobilised themselves at various places, and the police had to resort to lathi-charge and firing to disperse the crowds. 

The next day, December 15, witnessed widespread arson and rioting by some sections from both the communities in Mepparambu and adjoining areas. It was on this day that a ruthless state took the life of an 11-year-old innocent girl called Sirajunisa. 

The police reached the spot by 12 noon only to terrorise the innocent people in the locality. Instead of arresting the criminals they just shot indiscriminately which left three innocent youths injured. By noon the then DIG, Raman Srivastava, took control of the control room. From here onwards Srivastava was the man who directed all operations from there. 

By noon Shornur ASP Sandhya was passing through Puthuppally junction and found some stones placed on the road to block traffic. Till then no violence had been reported from this area. The ASP asked an old man in a nearby shop to remove the stones from the road. When he refused to obey, she took him into custody. This infuriated the locals who blocked her jeep. On hearing the news of Sandhya being blocked on her way, Deputy SP Chandran rushed to the spot by 3 PM. At this time Sirajunnisa and her sister were playing in front of their home which was some 600 yards away from the spot of police picket. Their neighbour, Mohammed, was watching the girls playing over the compound wall. According to Kolakkadan Moosa Haji, who witnessed the whole incident including the conversations between the police through the wireless and the subsequent firing of the girl, but for the police picket the street was empty and there wasn’t any violent mob. 

To a query by Raman Srivastava, Sandhya replied through wireless that there was no need of firing since the atmosphere was peaceful and all the people in the locality are inside their homes. To this the DIG shouted back through the wireless furiously ordering her to fire at the "Muslim bastards" there. She replied that there was no one around in the vicinity except two small girls playing and a man watching. "Shoot them down if no one else is around. Let them die like dogs," was Srivastava’s order. When she started to say something Srivastava asked her to pass the wireless receiver to Deputy SP Chandran. 
To Srivastava’s query on whether there were any girls playing there, Chandran replied in the positive. Then he said: "I want the dead bodies of some Muslim bastards" and ordered him to shoot them down at once. The order was promptly heeded as two constables executed the order by firing at Sirajunisa. (In the meanwhile, her younger sister had got inside the house). The bullet hit just below Sirajunisa’s nose and pierced through the back of her head. She died on the spot. Soon after the firing, the DSP called back the DIG and informed him that he had executed the order. The DIG ordered him to remove the body immediately from the scene.   

What followed were ghastly incidents of police insensitivity and barbarity. When Ali, Sirajunisa’s neighbour, heard the sound of firing he rushed out of his home and found the little girl lying in a pool of blood. When he desperately asked the policemen to take Sirajunisa to hospital; he was beaten brutally. Both Ali and Mohammed testify unanimously that the police beat up Sirajunisa’s mother who frantically tried to cling to her daughter’s body. Even in that moment the police dragged that shell-shocked mother and her daughter Athikka to the police jeep.
When Sulaiman, Sirajunisa’s uncle, tried to take the girl’s body in his hands the police hit him with lathis. When he couldn’t hold her anymore due to police beating Sirajunisa’s elder sister came to his help. She too was beaten up with lathis. ‘How could the police be so cruel like this," asks Sulaiman in choked voice.
       
But braving the police torture Ali took the girl’s body and ran towards the police jeep. The police held him by his neck hitting on his back and kicking him. Instead of trying to save the life of the girl the police was terrorising all of them. Finally he managed to get the body of Sirajunisa into the police jeep. On the way he made the jeep stop to give some water to the girl and he brought a mug of water from a shop. After pouring some drops into the girl’s mouth he returned to the shop to give back the mug, and ran away from the scene to save his life. Such was the brutality of police torture even inside the jeep. But, neither the police nor the single-man enquiry commission headed by Yohannan took these chilling accounts as testimonies. 

Even after killing Sirajunisa, the police was in no mood to spare this small girl. They trumped up a bunch of false and ridiculous charges against her in order to justify their bloody act of killing. So the victim was turned into a villain, and the perpetrators good Samaritans. According to the FIR, Sirajunisa was “leading a violent mob of more than 300 people to the nearby Brahmins-dominated village to indulge in violence and arson” (!) and the police had no way but to fire at this girl who was leading the rioters! 

"Even after seven years since the shooting, in the eye of the police this 11-year-old girl was the No.1 criminal who led hundreds of rioters to attack Hindus! They didn’t care to withdraw the FIR filed against her in the Palakkad South police station even while the case was pending in Supreme Court," says Mohammed who witnessed the girl being shot dead. He says even though he’d given his testimony to the police they didn’t care to include it in the FIR. The Yohannan Commission didn’t even take his testimony. 

According to the FIR, the bullet fired from the police rifle first hit an electric post in front of Sirajunisa’s house, then a shred of bullet hit the girl’s head. Later this turned out to be a blatant lie as it has been proved that there wasn’t any electric post at all on the day of firing in front of the girl’s house. As per the records of the State Electricity Board the post was put up two months after the tragic incident. But the authorities concerned had managed to manipulate the date etched on the post. Even after this fact has been proved beyond doubt the government accepted the Yohannan Commission report in toto. Also, forensic experts and ballistic experts had found that the bullet taken out of Sirajunisa’s head was fired from the police rifle. 

While whitewashing the police firing the Yohannan Commission parroted the police version, putting the blame on the girl. According to the report, the police was firing on the Muslim miscreants who continued to burn Hindu houses and shops despite the imposition of prohibitory orders, and the bullet hit inadvertently the head of the girl. 
Kolakkadan Moosa, who was near the police picketing when the firing took place, says there wasn’t any violence in Puthuppally area on December 15 and that the police action was totally uncalled for as there was no rioting or violence calling for any kind of firing let alone lathi charge. There weren’t any crowd or even a small group of people in that area. Not only Sirajunisa and Mohammed were unarmed but they weren’t even part of any mob. The firing was sudden and without warning of any kind. There weren’t any lathi-charge or administering of tear gas shells. Nor the girl and her neighbour were directed to go away before the firing. 

An independent enquiry commission headed by social activists like Mundoor Ravunni, held that it couldn’t establish any reason for police firing and the killing of an innocent girl. One side of Puthuppally street was inhabited by Muslims and the other by Brahmins. The commission report reveals that both the communities were living in complete harmony and that there had never been any strain of communal violence between them. It quoted a Hindu who wondered why police firing was needed at all since nothing untoward had happened in that street on December 15, 1991. If anything there was burning of a motor cycle in the nearby junction and a lone incident of stone throwing against the police. But these stray incidents can never be cited as a justification for the police firing and the selective harassment of Muslims.

None other than the then Irrigation Minister and some other people’s representatives were witness to Srivastava’s outbursts and open clamouring for Muslim dead bodies through the wireless. When the firing took place the minister T M Jacob and some MLAs were holding a meeting at the Palakkad District Collector’s chamber. After knowing about the prevailing ‘tension’ in Puthuppally area the Minister told the wireless operator to switch on the wireless. And what they heard was something that can never be expected from a responsible police officer. Srivastava’s demand for "Muslim dead bodies" shocked the minister and the MLAs. 
Taking these as evidence Koolkadan Moosa Haji managed to file suit against Srivastava. The case reached the Supreme Court. In 1998 the apex court asked the state government to entrust the enquiry to a high-level police officer not below the rank of IG. It directed the state government to investigate the role played by eight policemen including Raman Srivastava in the killing of Sirajunisa. The SC directive put the state government in a quandary. So in a face saving measure it removed Sirajunisa from the list of accused. Still, so many questions are begging to be answered. Who killed this 11-year-old girl, and what for? Why no case was field against the police officers for murder? 
Even if she was a rioter as the police claimed, they can’t kill her purposely, because that amounts to culpable homicide under Sec. 304 of Indian Penal Code. But till now even a case of accidental killing hasn’t been filed against the police under Sec. 304 (A) of the IPC.  

Successive governments have continued the policy of protecting Srivastava. Worse, after the firing, he was elevated to the post of IG. The Communist Party-led LDF government came to power by using Sirajunisa’s murder as a trump card against the UDF regime. But when they came to power with huge margin they too adopted a lackadaisical approach, and though an enquiry was initiated it didn’t bear any fruit. Successive governments have always tried to scuttle the investigation at all levels and justice remains a mirage.  
 
The authorities concerned took all efforts to bury the case. The illiterate and gullible relatives of the girl were made to sign on a slew of papers. The police easily led Sirajunisa’s uncle, Sulaiman and her brother into signing a statement to the effect that they didn’t have any complaint in Sirajunisa’s death, telling them that then only they would get the group insurance money. "We did so not for that blood money. Rather we wanted to prove the innocence of our little girl before the world," explains Sulaiman. But now he knows that the whole machinery was hell-bent on protecting the wrongdoers. 
 
From 1991 onwards Sirajunisa figured prominently in all the election propaganda of both the LDF and UDF. Every big and small leader of all political parties made a beeline for Sirajunisa’s house. All of them were after good photo ops and political mileage. Only justice didn’t knock at her house. 

Sirajunisa’s death virtually destroyed her family forever. Her heartbroken mother died after two years of the tragic incident; father re-married and moved away. Her elder sister, a heart patient, continues to live within the dark interiors of her relatives’ homes. Sulaiman, her uncle, still leads a tormented life reminiscing the memories of his dear nephew. 

And Raman Srivastava is back as the DGP of Kerala. Moosa Haji says Srivastava has been elevated to the top post after messing up with the seniority of two other police officers. It seems justice will never be delivered to Sirajunissa’s family. 
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