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In This Uttar Pradesh Town, Eid Is A 'Black Day' For Many Muslims

Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

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Video Editor :Mohd. Irshad Alam

Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

Irshad Saqlaini was all of 9 years old when his relationship with his neighborhood Eidgah changed for good. An excited Saqlaini had gotten ready in the wee hours of that cloudy August day, to accompany his father and siblings to offer the Eid prayer. Across families in Moradabad, tradition had dictated that all children visit the Eidgah for the Eid prayer along with the elders. Minutes after the Eid prayer ended, Saqlaini began sensing a strange gas hurting his eyes and mouth. Seconds later, blazing gunshots were heard. Saqlaini and his family began running out of the Eidgah, haplessly trying to escape the bullets, just like every other person in the field that day. This led to an inevitable stampede. Saqlaini fell.

Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

The gate of the Eidgah ground where the incident occurred in 1980. 

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

“It’s a miracle that I am sitting in front of you here today, there are many children who fell that day and never got up,” he says
Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

Irshad Saqlaini had a narrow escape after the stampede in Moradabad Eidgah. 

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

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A stranger extended his hand to Saqlaini and managed to lift him up in time. “I remember seeing children that day, who had fallen under the broken tents, their intestines were coming out...that’s how badly they were crushed,” says another Moradabad resident. There is no concrete figure on how many people died that day, statistics ranging from several hundreds to thousands. Some died from the bullets at the Eidgah, some due to the stampede and some from the police and rioters entering their homes and firing at the residents. This came to be known as the 1980 Moradabad massacre.

“I didn’t visit the Eidgah for many years after that, I would simply avoid going even near it. It would give me immense anxiety,” Saqlaini says. After over four decades of the massacre, Saqlani’s memories were refreshed. The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh released a report on the incident, called the Saxena commission report. The one-man inquiry commission, included retired Justice MP Saxena, and had been directed to set up an inquiry into the incident by the then PM Indira Gandhi. The Congress was in power at the time at the center as well as in Uttar Pradesh. The commission submitted the report in 1983, but no government released it for four decades. Then, in August 2023, a year prior to the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP government tabled the report in the UP assembly. The report didn’t provide much relief or closure to the victims of the massacre, instead, it only added insult to injury.

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The Background

Arshad Ali remembers the exact spot he was standing at, with his father, when the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) stationed outside the Eidgah began firing their guns at the worshipers. It’s only later that he and his family learnt what had transpired.

Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

Arshad Ali standing inside the Eidgah where the incident occurred. 

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint) 

“Apparently a pig had entered the Eidgah. Some of the prayer attendees took objection to it because pigs are considered impure in Islam. All this led to some dispute.  But it was a minor dispute...in no time the PAC started shooting,” says Ali.

Besides this, there was pre-existing tension between the Valmiki and Muslim communities over the alleged abduction and rape of a Dalit woman in the preceding months by Muslim men. “But even with that existing tension, it is unclear how that had anything to do with the shooting of Muslims by PAC on Eid,” says Ali.

Another resident recalls how every Eid after that one was reminiscent of the tragedy that had occurred.

“No one consoled the victims on any of the subsequent Eids. People here would cry and wail in the sajdah,” recalls Raees Ahmed, another resident.  

All these men are in their fifties and sixties now. They lost many decades of their lives living in persistent fear and terror.  
 
As did 56-year-old Mohammed Alam, who was just 12 when he came back to his home with his father and siblings from the Eidgah, to find his mother dead. “Some police officers had entered our home and fired at my mother, she died on the spot. My younger siblings saw it happen from inside the room,” Alam recalls. The dead body was lying at their home for three whole days, before a local politician promised help and took the body away for post mortem. He never got back to them, and the family could never bury her. Since then, Eid has been a “black day”, he says.

Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

Mohammed Alam pointing to the spot where he found his mother's dead body, over 40 years ago.

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint)

“Every year our memory is refreshed on Eid. It feels like it was yesterday that this happened. We will never forget this. This is the kind of pain that will stay with us till our deathbed. Eid has become like a black day for us.”
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The Report Released By The Yogi Government

When news arrived that the 1983 Saxena commission report is being tabled by the Yogi Adityanath government in 2023, the kin of the victims were part-intrigued and part-suspect. The report, as it turned out, exonerated the police officials and all government authorities of the blame.

One of the first few lines of the report states: "After 30 days of fasting, on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr to offer namaz, roughly seventy thousand hardliner Muslims collected at the Eidgah."

Referring to the term ‘hardliner’, Kausar Hayat Khan, national secretary of the IUML and a Moradabad resident, chuckles in disbelief. “What kind of a report will a man give when his mentality is this. Of course he will give such a report.”

Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

Saxena Committee Report's first page refers to those who had collected in the Eidgah to pray as 'hardliners'. 

The Saxena committee report also states that “no government official, employee or Hindus are responsible” for the violence.

It also states that “In these riots, the role of the RSS or BJP has not come out anywhere.” 

The report’s exoneration of the police and government directly contradicts what was documented by journalists at the time, like MJ Akbar, who is now a BJP member.  In his book ‘Riot After Riot’, Akbar had described the Moradabad massacre as a “calculated, cold-blooded massacre of Muslims by a rabidly communal police force”.
Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

MJ Akbar's book 'Riot After Riot' has a chapter dedicated to the Moradabad massacre. 

The one-man inquiry report calls the riots handiwork of two local Muslim leaders, Shamim Ahmed of the Indian Union Muslim League and Hamid Hussain of the Khaksar-e-Haq Party. Both the leaders have since passed.     

Khan says the report wasn’t produced after diligent inquiry. “He (Saxena) spoke to the administration and together they decided in closed rooms what is to be written in the report. Someone had to be blamed for the massacre in the report, so these two leaders were named.  At that time, the Congress Moradabad president Babu Ashfaq Ansari was also arrested. To demoralise the Muslim community, the entire cream of the community was arrested,” says Khan. 

The 400+ page report also blames Muslim ‘vote bank’ politics .

“Muslim population in India has gone up. They (Muslims) have begun considering themselves as vote bank for purpose of elections. If Muslims are given incentives for treating them as a commodity for trade in the elections, the outcome is bound to be inauspicious,” the report states.

Khan takes objection to the usage of such terminology. “This is such an incredible phrase, ‘vote bank’. Are Hindus not a vote bank? Hindus are also a vote bank. Do Hindus not vote for BJP or Congress?” he asks.

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Why Release The Report Now, Ask Residents

It isn’t just the content of the report that has upset the Moradabad residents. But also its timing.

“More Muslims are leaning towards Congress ahead of the elections. That’s why the Yogi government has released this report,” says Mohammed Haneef, a resident.

“Yogi government tried a gamble. They thought they could provoke some Muslims to go against Congress. But they weren’t successful. What will you get by scraping our wounds? Congress did not give us anything. And now after over four decades you are telling us Congress killed us. Yes but what do you mean with that now?” asks Khan.  

Despite the continued trauma of what had transpired, some residents are more willing to ‘forgive’ the Congress. “Former PM Indira Gandhi had visited us, she had sought forgiveness and we forgave her,” says a resident. Haneef recalls that when Gandhi had come to Moradabad to meet the massacre victims’ kin, many had refused to even provide her with a desk.

Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

Mohammed Haneef (in skullcap) recalls the time Indira Gandhi had visited the Eidgah after the violence. 

(Shiv Kumar Maurya/ The Quint)

“Indira Gandhi came here. No one was willing to even give her a desk. Our family got a desk and she stood here (at the Eidgah) and gave a speech. But she had made many promises, which still haven’t been fulfilled,” he says.  
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Men Taken Away From Homes, Whereabouts Still Not Known

The promises in question include not just justice but also adequate compensation for the kin of the victims. The casualties in the massacre weren’t just those who died at the Eidgah, from the firing and the stampede, but also those who were taken away by the forces from their homes and never returned.

Sajda Begum had four men in her family taken away by the forces from her home, in the days after the Eidgah incident. These included her husband, his father, his brother and one helper. The men were packed in police jeeps and she has never seen them since.

Four decades after the 1980 Moradabad Eidgah massacre, the UP government has released a report on the incident.

Old newspaper clipping showing the pictures of the four men who were taken away from Sajda Begum's house.

“The police never told us anything, where they were taken or if they are alive or dead. Nothing,” says Begum.

Despite this, she kept her hope alive. “Every time I would see someone of my husband’s age, I would feel hopeful. I would feel that if not today then tomorrow he will return, the men of my family will return.” They never did. In December 2023, Nazim Hussain, her elder son, passed away of a heart attack. For years until then, he was the one who had been holding protests, meeting politicians and police officers, and inquiring about the disappearance of the men in the family. “After my son died, I lost all hope. He was a young man in his forties. He was the one pursuing this fight for justice, with him gone, there is nothing left,” says Sajda. 
 
Sajda says that not only did she never find out the whereabouts of her husband and other members of the family, but they never received any compensation or help from the government either. “Now all I want is that we get some help for our grandchildren, for their education,” she says.  

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RTI Filed On The Incident

In 2000, Javed Rasheed, a lawyer in Moradabad, collected names of individuals who suffered in the massacre and submitted that list to the authorities, in demand for compensation. In 2022, his son, Waqi Rasheed filed an RTI with the Moradabad authorities, wanting to know the details of that list and the death toll of the massacre. However, the authorities responded stating that while they do have the list submitted by late Javed Rasheed, they cannot make this information available as “it has been over twenty years.”

Waqi, who is a lawyer and AIMIM member, says that his father had documented what had happened during the Moradabad massacre in his book on the district, a seminal account of the history of the place. In the book, he had descried the 1980 Eidgah incident as reminiscent of Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

“When I saw the unabashed barbarity of the police it reminded me of the Jallianwala Bagh incident. Here too, innocent worshipers were shot down the same way the British had shot down innocent Indians in Jallianwala Bagh,” Rasheed had written.  

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