A little more than a year after the Samajwadi Party came to power in Uttar Pradesh, riding largely on the support of Muslim voters, communal riots ravaged Muzaffarnagar. The violence, which began on September 7, 2013, soon spiralled out of control, claiming at least 65 lives and displacing more than 50,000 Muslims.
The aftermath saw mass exodus of Muslims from villages, which had been their homes for decades, to seek refuge in hastily erected camps across the district. As horror stories of murder, rape and destruction poured in, police went from camp to camp, registering complaints and promising swift justice.
But, despite a total of 567 FIRs being filed and several promises by the state government, victims are still waiting for justice. A year after the riots, investigations are still underway and court proceedings are continuing at a sluggish pace. A look at where the crucial riot-related cases stand:
August 27, 2013
It was the murder of three youths — Shahnawaz, Gaurav Kumar and Sachin Taliyan — that first triggered the violence. The Special Investigation Cell (SIC) set up by the UP government alleged that Shahnawaz was murdered by Gaurav and Sachin after he passed lewd comments about Gaurav’s cousin.
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But while the FIR lists at least three other accused being present when Shahnawaz was allegedly killed by Gaurav and Sachin, police said that they have not found any evidence to back that claim. “One of those named as accused in the case had, in fact, died in a railway accident two months before the riots. There is no evidence against the other two,” said a senior police officer. The SIC is yet to file a chargesheet in the case.
After the attack on Shahnawaz, Sachin and Gaurav were allegedly lynched. The police filed a chargesheet in the case and arrested five people, who are facing trial under sections pertaining to rioting, criminal intimidation and murder.
Even though these murders triggered the riots, court proceedings remain sluggish, claimed the public prosecutor.
“Charges were framed in the case in April this year, while the chargesheet was filed in November 2013. But it was only last week that the testimony of Gaurav’s father Ravindra Singh was examined in court,” said Firoz Ali, the public prosecutor in the case, adding that the court is yet to hear the testimony of 35 other witnesses.
Jauli canal ambush,
September 7, 2013
After the Kawal murders, a series of mahapanchayats were organised in the district by both Muslim and Jat communities. Tension reached boiling point on September 7 when a group of Jats, returning from a mahapanchayat at Nangla Madhor near Kawal, were ambushed near the neighbouring Jauli canal around 4.30 pm.
The police later fished out six bodies from the canal and registered a case under sections pertaining to rioting, murder, promoting enmity between groups on the basis of religion and mischief by fire.
But, of the 60 people who were named in the initial FIR filed at Jansath police station, the SIC arrested two individuals after gathering evidence against them. The chargesheet in the case was filed in August and names at least six individuals, said the counsel.
Charges are yet to be framed in the case and, last week, one of the two arrested in the case applied for bail. Additional District and Sessions Judge Jitender Kumar denied the application, stating that the case was too ‘serious’ for the accused to be given bail.
September 8, 2013
Before the Jauli canal ambush, the violence was primarily concentrated around Kawal village in Jansath area. But afterwards, rumours spread through the villages in the district that hundreds had been killed in the attack and their bodies were lost in the canal.
The immediate aftermath was rioting in Kutba village. As reports of arson, rioting and murder came in, the district administration sought help from the Army. The Army managed to rescue 26 people from the twin villages, but could not save eight others. As many as 23 people were injured.
At the time, those who had been attacked lodged at least three FIRs at Shahpur police station, with a total of 100 individuals named in them. The SIC eliminated duplication and, eventually, found evidence against four individuals, who have been arrested.
The violence at Kutba and Kutbi triggered the mass exodus of Muslims, which began on September 8.
A year later, the SIC has filed a chargesheet against the four arrested. But Firoz Ali, public prosecutor in the case, said that the case is proceeding at a snail’s pace. “There are a total of 62 individuals listed as witnesses in the case, whose testimonies have to be taken. The charges haven’t even been framed yet,” he said.
September 8, 2013
It was only after the riots subsided and an uneasy calm returned to Muzaffarnagar that the first gangrape case was lodged on September 20. In the subsequent weeks, the SIC lodged a total of seven cases pertaining to gangrape.
Eventually, one case was dropped due to lack of evidence, while another, involving a 40-year-old woman, was dropped after she turned hostile. In May, the SIC reopened the second case after the 40-year-old approached the Supreme Court in Delhi, alleging that she had dropped the case after the accused threatened her son. “She said that her son was getting off the bus at Budhana Chowk, a busy neighbourhood in the city, when he was allegedly attacked by the same five men who had gangraped her,” said a senior police officer.
After the SIC reopened the case — following a Supreme Court directive that statements of victims in all gangrape cases in Fugana village be recorded again before a woman magistrate — the 40-year-old reaffirmed that she had been gangraped, and that the men had berated her for being a Muslim before setting fire to her house.
Though the case was reopened, the five accused are still absconding, SIC sources said. The chargesheet in the case has not been filed yet as the investigation is still underway.
Police suspect that the number of rape cases registered represent only a fraction of the actual incidents of sexual violence against Muslim women during the riots.
On August 17, the Muzaffarnagar police announced a Rs 2,500 reward for any information that leads to the arrest of those accused in the gangrape cases.