The massive crowd was puzzling. Some people standing on the roofs in the Kanpur neighbourhood assumed that lottery results had been released.
The crowd wasn’t clutching lottery tickets — but knives, daggers and wooden truncheons. They were out to kill. It was December 8, 1992, two days after the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
Over the next five days, rioters ravaged the predominantly Muslim area, killing at least 254 people. The victims filed 4,700 cases, according to police records.
Police filed chargesheets in only 18 cases — and one got a court decision in 16 years. The remaining cases were dropped by the Mulayam Singh Yadav government on December 23, 1994. A copy of the order is with HT.
Shahnaz Hussain was sitting on a mat, about to offer namaaz, when she heard the cries: “Kill them!” She slid under the bed with her infant daughters Tabassum and Tarannum as the mob ripped through the house, looking for
them. The attackers dragged out her son Naushad, 13, and husband Akhlaq, and burnt them alive.
Hussain’s house was up in flames, and the room where she was hiding was covered in smoke. She cradled her girls and ran on her blistered legs as far as she could — until she passed out on a highway near a police station.
She spent the next two days convincing the police that her husband and son had been killed. But they made her return home on the third day to sift through a heap of ashes and come up with human bones. She finally received Rs 4 lakh in compensation, but still seeks justice.
“They didn't register the FIR. They told me I had got the money — what would I do fighting a case as a widow?” said Hussain, who now works at the Field Gun factory where her husband worked.
The mobs had meticulously planned their attacks; houses were marked and the attackers moved in hundreds with voter lists in their hands to identify targets.
“It was so frightening to see the Maruti vans running to distribute fuel to the rioters to people on fire,” said Meraj Ali, reading his rosary as he stood on the staircase of a mosque in the Macharia neighbourhood.
Several Hindus were killed too, and as Muslim protesters clashed with police, several of them were killed in police firing.
The government set up the Justice Mathur Commission of inquiry, and a few months later, Hussain was before it to depose. She also had another witness, a bank employee living in the neighbourhood called Ashok Kumar Pankaj.
“I saw the district magistrate and SSP (senior superintendent of police) coming with a heavy police contingent,” Pankaj said in his affidavit before the commission. “I told them two men were about to be burnt … But they told me I should mind my own business.”
The Mathur commission investigated the killings for six years, and its report to the Home Department in 1998 reportedly indicted many IAS and IPS officers and public representatives, said Sharfuddin Ahmed, a lawyer who has represented many riot-hit families before the commission.
But it has not even been brought before the state assembly all these years when both the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party were in power.
“There’s been much hue and cry over the Shri Krishna report (submitted after the Mumbai riots that year) but no party ever thought of the Mathur commission report,” said Ishrat Siddiqui who provides legal aid to many families.
“The final report was filed in my case without even telling me, I learnt that much later in 1997,” said furniture dealer Jamil Khan who had run away with his family leaving his old mother with the neighbours.
When he returned a week later, all he had was one burnt metal trunk left in his burnt house at the New Labour Colony.
Khan’s sister was to get married — and she did, a few days after the riots. But the pictures still tell the story of lives wrapped in tragedy. The bride had no other clothes left for her wedding day after her home was ransacked and robbed.
So she wore what she was wearing when the killers came.