The inordinately high number of acquittals in the cases relating to the Muzaffarnagar riots calls for strict adherence of due process.
On 7th September 2013 clashes between Hindus and Muslims erupted into full scale rioting in Muzaffarnagar, with over 60 deaths, more than 90 injured and over 40,000 displaced. These riots were one of the worst that Uttar Pradesh had ever witnessed, with the army being deployed to the state to control the dire situation.
The sole conviction linked to these riots took place on February 8 2019. Additional District and Sessions judge Himanshu Bhatnagar convicted 7 youths; namely Ikbal, Furkan, Nadeem Janangir, Muzammil, Mujassim and Afzal, for rioting as well as for the murder of Gaurav and Sachin in Kawal Village in 2013. The murder was the crucial incident that triggered the riots. The men were sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, the remaining 40 cases that were filed with regards to the riots have seen verdicts that acquitted the accused. Most of these acquittals involved attack on Muslims. The registration and investigation for these cases had begun while Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) had been in power, and the investigation had continued into BJP led govt.
The processes followed in these cases contravened the standard procedures of prosecution. Although 69 men were named as accused only 24 were on trial. Several prosecution witnesses, whose relatives had been killed in the murder, turned hostile. Although FIRs had been filed based on their statement, several witnesses denied being present at the scene. Some claimed that the chargesheets did not reflect their position, as they were compelled by the police to sign on blank pieces of paper. In some cases, the weapon used for murder was never presented to the court, while in another case the postmortem report was not produced. Several cases deviated from the procedural norms, as the prosecution never examined doctors and forensic experts about crucial aspects of the murder, such as the nature of injury and the cause of death. Overall the consequence was that over 50 men, who were accused of murder during these riots, were not held culpable. Many accused of gangrape and rioting were also let off.
The govt released a statement affirming that it would not be appealing to higher courts.
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