# Five prosecution witnesses did a U-turn in court to say they weren’t present when their relatives were murdered — when the FIRs mentioned otherwise.
# Six prosecution witnesses turned hostile and deposed that police forced them to sign blank papers.
# Police did not produce murder weapons in court in five cases.
# The prosecution never cross-examined police on these.
# In the end, all witnesses turned hostile.
These are among the several glaring holes The Indian Express found in the Uttar Pradesh government’s prosecution cases in 10 murder cases filed on the violence that swept through Muzaffarnagar in 2013, killing at least 65 people. Based on the testimonies, and holding that witnesses, mostly relatives of those killed, had turned hostile, the courts acquitted all in the 10 murder trials that ended between January 2017 and February 2019.
In fact, since 2017, Muzaffarnagar courts have delivered verdicts in 41 cases linked to the riots — and delivered a conviction in just one case of murder. All the 40 acquittals have come in cases involving attacks on Muslims.
All these cases were registered and investigations launched under the Akhilesh Yadav government. The trials spanned both his and the current BJP government. The only conviction came on February 8 this year, when the sessions court sentenced seven accused — Muzammil, Mujassim, Furkan, Nadeem, Janangir, Afzal and Ikbal — to life in prison for the murder of cousins Gaurav and Sachin in Kawal village on August 27, 2013, the incident that is said to have triggered the riots.
The Indian Express scrutinised court records and testimonies of complainants and witnesses and interviewed officials in the 10 cases of acquittal to find that — from one family burnt alive to three friends dragged into a field and killed, from a father hacked to death with swords to an uncle beaten to death with spades — 53 men accused of murder walked free.
That’s not all, a similar trend has emerged in four cases of gangrape and 26 cases of rioting, as well.
The UP government says it’s not planning to appeal. Speaking to The Indian Express, Dushyant Tyagi, District Government Counsel, Muzaffarnagar, said: “We are not filing appeals in any of 2013 Muzaffarnagar riot cases, which ended in acquittal, because in all cases, the prime witnesses were declared hostile by court after they did not support the prosecution theory. The chargesheets against the accused were filed on the statement of witnesses.”
According to Tyagi, notices have been issued to all hostile witnesses under Section 344 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which mandates a summary trial procedure for false evidence.
Consider the key findings from court records of the 10 murder cases that ended in acquittals:
# 69 men were named by complainants but only 24 were put on trial. Another 45 men who were put on trial were not even mentioned in the original complaint.
# While each FIR mentions murder weapons, police recovered this crucial piece of evidence only in five cases. For instance, in the murder of three men, Amroj, Meherban and Ajmal, in Bhudhana on September 8, 2013, the court passed acquittal orders in three separate cases. The murder weapon, a ‘balakatti’ (sickle), was recovered by police from one of the accused. But in one case, the weapon was not produced in court; in the second, it was placed as evidence but police said it “did not contain any bloodstains” and, therefore, they “did not send it for further scientific analysis”; in the third, it was placed but no police witness was examined about its recovery.
# In the murder of couple Asimuddin and Halima, in Phugana on September 8, 2013, police named two independent witnesses to prove the search and seizure of evidence. But both deposed that no such seizure took place in their presence and that they were asked to sign on “blank paper” by police. Similarly, in the murder of Rojuddin in Titawi on September 8, the independent witness said no seizure took in place in his presence, and that “all documents were prepared in the police station” before his signatures were taken by police.
# In the murders of three men, Sharique in Mirapur, Rojuddin killed in Titawi and Nadeem in Mirapur, the prosecution named doctors who conducted the postmortem as witnesses. But in court, the doctors were only asked to “prove”, or verify, the medical examination documents. The prosecution did not cross-examine them on the nature of injuries or the cause of death.
# In the murder of Asimudin and Halima, the prosecution did not produce a postmortem report, on which the court noted: “The prosecution has placed only the complaint, the FIR, the general diary entry and site plan of the recovery. No other document or evidence has been produced by the prosecution.”
One illustrative case among the 10 that ended in acquittal is the killing of Islam (65) on September 8, 2013, under the Phugana police station in Muzaffarnagar.
The FIR filed by Islam’s son Zarif states that “the accused Harpal, Sunil, Brahm Singh, Sripal, Chasmveer, Vinod, Sumit, Kuldeep, Aravind, raising religious slogans, attacked my family with weapons. Sripal hit my father’s head with a sharp weapon and six others attacked him with swords. They set the house on fire. My brother rushed my father to the government hospital where he was declared dead.”
But during the trial, Zarif, according to the acquittal order, told the court, “My father was murdered and the complaint was written by Gulzar (a relative). I only signed on the complaint. The accused present in the court were not involved in the incident.” Three other witnesses, too, said the accused weren’t involved.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Zarif, a labourer, doesn’t remember the date when he deposed before the trial court and turned hostile. In court records, his testimony states that he failed to identify the accused.
But his memories of the day his father was killed are vivid. “He died in hospital, hours after he was murdered. He had identified Harpal, Sunil, Sripal, Chasmveer, Vinod, Sumit Pal, Kuldeep and Arvind from our village. These names feature in the FIR because my father identified all the accused,” he said.
“All the Muslim families fled the village and only we stayed back. Village elders, including the sarpanch, took us to the mosque and assured that we will be protected. Since the promise was made inside a place of worship, we believed them,” he said.
“But within hours, we sensed the situation getting tense. My father called the thana in-charge but he did not respond. We requested a local politician for help and he said the Army was on its away. But by then, it was too late. The same people, who assured that we would be safe, attacked and killed my father.”
However, on October 9, 2018, before judge Himanshu Bhatnagar at the Muzaffarnagar sessions court, Zarif, as per records, refused to identify any of the accused.
Asked why, Zarif said: “Those who have been acquitted are the ones involved in the murder. Because of our weakness, we had to compromise. If we had the capacity, we would have fought the case up to the High Court and Supreme Court. But when we don’t have money to feed our families, what is the purpose of seeking justice from court?”
Like the other murder cases that ended in acquittal, Islam’s trial is not just about his son turning hostile. Court records show the investigation was riddled with contradictions.
For instance, only five of the eight men that Zarif had named — Harpal, Kuldeep, Chashmveer, Sunil and Vinod — were put on trial. Zarif also alleged that police refused to record his father’s statement before his death.
“My father was alive for a few hours. He was seriously injured but despite that, he asked police to record his statement, as he had identified all the persons who attacked him. But instead, they took us to Shamli hospital. We waited for hours but there were no police personnel to record his statement. The most crucial evidence was never recorded because police were protecting the accused,” he said.
(With Manish Sahu in Lucknow)