Reaction to Acquittals in Maliana Riots and Jaipur Blasts a Study in Contrast

There is hardly any great mileage perceived by our political parties in protesting against the shocking Maliana acquittals. It only shows how morally bankrupt our society and polity have become.

I distinctly recall the report I wrote in the Patriot newspaper about the infamous Maliana massacre. In May 1987, a sleepy village called Maliana, outside Meerut, was surrounded by a mob accompanied by personnel of UP’s Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC). The mob, and allegedly the PAC jawans, gunned down 68 villagers, almost all Muslims.

There were no private TV channels those days. Jasvinder Singh, then an intrepid BBC correspondent, and I happened to be in Meerut on that fateful evening. We were heading back to Delhi when we learnt of the Maliana firing. Riding a scooter, we reached the village. The BBC broke the story around midnight. Memories of Maliana’s horror came streaming back this week when a district court in Meerut acquitted all 41 accused in the massacre.

Some 36 years later, a court has acquitted all 41 accused, citing lack of credible evidence!

Is this how the rule of law works?

Muslim families in Maliana are angry at the shoddy investigation and prosecution that has led to zero conviction. The victims’ families are preparing for an appeal. The prosecution could not even produce original post-mortem reports during the trial, according to a report in the Indian Express. The report further says the main investigating officer was not even cross-examined – a most basic procedural requirement. One key witness to the massacre said he was asked to randomly name people from the voters’ list as accused. Little wonder the district court threw the case out.

Coincidentally, the Maliana judgment came just a few days after the Rajasthan high court passed severe strictures against the police for an “incompetent” investigation into the 2008 Jaipur bomb blasts in which 71 people had been killed.

The high court acquitted all four men who had been sentenced to death in 2019. The court further said it was “cognizant of the heinousness of the crime, but in the absence of any serious investigation and proof as per law, a conviction could not be recorded on moral persuasion or suspicion alone. Indeed, the more heinous the crime, the stricter the scrutiny should be.”

Both the Maliana and Jaipur judgments point to shoddy and callous investigation and lack of accountability in the criminal investigation system. However, one must note the sharp contrast between the official responses to the two judgments. In the Jaipur blasts case, the optics are largely political as every party wants to be seen as being tough on terror. The BJP as well as Rajasthan’s Congress government has expressed outrage at the shoddy investigation and the acquittals. The state government has sacked its additional advocate general. It has also announced it will appeal against the acquittals in the Supreme Court. In the process, there seems little acknowledgement of the fact that some of the accused have been wrongly convicted.

After all, the high court has clearly said that there was “absence of serious investigation” and that the accused can’t be convicted on mere suspicion. So what is really needed is a serious re-investigation. That is precisely how the state and its prosecutors can re-establish their credibility.

Compared with the Rajasthan government’s response in the Jaipur blasts case, the Maliana judgment has evoked little response from the BJP government in UP, which has remained silent so far. Other major political parties, too, have said little. There is hardly any great mileage perceived by our political parties in protesting against the shocking Maliana acquittals. It only shows how morally bankrupt our society and polity have become.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.