Muzaffarnagar Riots Cases: Hostile Witnesses and Zero Convictions

5 years, 60 killed. 50,000 homeless. A status check on the Muzaffarnagar riots cases. 

Published
India
4 min read
Verdict out in around 40 cases but zero conviction so far. 
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It’s been five years since the Muzaffarnagar riots. Sixty people were killed, over 50,000 were rendered homeless. With the investigations that followed, chargesheets were filed on 175 FIRs. Of these 175 cases, the local courts in Muzaffarnagar have delivered their verdicts in around 40 cases related to murder, rape, arson and dacoity. But there has not been a single conviction.

What gives?

In these 40 cases, most of the complainants turned hostile in court. They either settled out of court for money, or for the sake of “bhai chara” (communal harmony). I wouldn’t say any of them were threatened into a settlement. When a complainant turns hostile in court, who’s to argue otherwise? The court has no option but to pass an order to acquit.
Chandravir, Counsel for Muzaffarnagar Riot Accused
Muzaffarnagar Riots Cases: Hostile Witnesses and Zero Convictions
(Graphics: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

In the aftermath of the riots, a total of 566 FIRs were registered. Of these, 492 were filed by Muslim families and 40 by Hindu families. Thirty-four FIRs were registered suo moto by the police.

However, after the Special Investigation Team examined the FIRs, it found several duplications and 56 FIRs were expunged, bringing the total number of FIRs to 510, SIT officer Prakash Tripathi told The Quint.

In the 135 cases that are currently in different stages of trial, around 1,476 accused are Hindus. Of these, around 1,100 are out on bail.

Why So Many Acquittals?

An incompetent and ever-rotating prosecution roster, and repeatedly changing statements by witnesses are responsible for the high acquittal rate, says Chandravir, who’s a defence lawyer himself for several of the accused.

“I was the lawyer for one of the accused in a murder case. The complainant told the court that yes, my relative was murdered, but no, the person sitting in front of me did not do it. So, the court acquitted him.”

Another reason is that the prosecution lawyers have changed frequently, adversely affecting the kind of representation that the victims are able to get.

There have been some complaints of professional misconduct against some of these prosecution lawyers, which is why they’ve been removed and new ones brought in.

Some Hostile Complainants Charged for Perjury

The Quint tried to reach out to some of the complainants who turned hostile in court during the trial, but all of them refused to talk about the case.

Some of them have been charged with perjury.

Some of the complainants were charged under Section 344 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for changing their statement. But it doesn’t really affect them because the maximum punishment is either Rs 500 or 3 months’ imprisonment or both. 
Jitendra Tyagi, Prosecution Lawyer

Tyagi also stated that most of his clients made settlements because of the monetary gain.

Once the settlements are done, out of the court, between the accused and the complainants, neither police nor prosecution have a role to play, he said.

In most of the cases I handled, I understood that the complainant and the accused had come to an understanding only when we were in court. The complainant would either turn hostile while recording their statement in court, or stick to the details of the incident and then state that the accused before them was not the same person mentioned in the FIR.
Jitendra Tyagi, Prosecution Lawyer

But For Many Other Victims, There’s Still a Long Legal Fight Ahead

Julfiqar’s grandfather was murdered in Kutba, Muzaffarnagar on 8 September 2013. The murder case is pending in court.

We faced a lot of pressure from the family of the accused to compromise. They offered us money and promised a peaceful and harmonious life. They approached us not once but several times. But we did not accept it. The family of the accused offered to pay us for repairing our houses and things. But money will not return our grandfather. 
Julfiqar, Victim

After the incident, Julfiqar and his family moved 6 kms away from their home in Kutba.

“Some of the accused are out on bail and live close to our home, so we prefer staying away.”

The SIT has filed the chargesheet in his case and court proceedings are on, but there hasn’t been much progress, says Julfiqar.

Gayyur’s cousin Imran was also murdered in the same attack in which Julfiqar’s grandfather was murdered.

The matter is on trial but witnesses are not turning up to record their statements.

Gayyur says his family faced a lot of pressure from the accused to compromise, because of which some witnesses have turned hostile. “They’ve been bought over,” he says.  

Status Check on The Case That Sparked the Riots

The Muzaffarnagar riots were triggered when a woman from the Jat community was sexually harassed by Shahnawaz Qureshi. The woman’s brothers – Sachin and Gaurav – murdered Shahnawaz on 27 August 2013.

On the way back from Shahnawaz’s funeral the next day, his brothers led an angry mob who then killed Sachin and Gaurav.

A local BJP legislator then circulated a fake video of another mob lynching, with further fanned communal riots across the district.

As for the case, the SIT has filed a closure report the murder case of Shahnawaz Qureshi. Six people who were accused in the case (along with the deceased, Gaurav and Sachin) have been let off for lack of evidence.

Shahnawaz Qureshi’s family has, however, challenged the closure report in the High Court and claim that there is strong evidence against the six accused. Following this, the accused were summoned by the court. However, the accused filed a petition in the High Court, challenging the summons. This petition was rejected.

The accused will now appeal in the Supreme Court against the summons issued by the lower court. 
Chandravir, Defence Lawyer

In stark contrast, the counter-case filed by Sachin and Gaurav’s family against Shahnawaz Qureshi’s family is in its final stages in the lower court.

The judgment is expected in a month.

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