By Ahmad Khan
Tariq Farooqui felt excruciating pain that he could not locate in his body as he witnessed a man with blood oozing out of his white beard. He was an eyewitness to the alleged police brutality on Muslims during the aftermath of Moradabad massacre that took place on 13th August 1980. “I saw the white beard of an old Muslim man reddened with blood oozing out his head and facial injuries. But PAC men were still not satisfied. One of them pulled his blood-drenched beard with full force. Unable to bear the pain the old man lost consciousness and possibly died later,” he wrote for the Delhi-based biweekly newspaper The Milli Gazette.
40 years later, as Muslims are celebrating Eid during a pandemic—preceded by Delhi pogrom along with the witch-hunting of Muslim voices, a vilification campaign against Tablighi Jamaat to dehumanise them followed by their social and economic boycott—it is paramount to recall what occurred that day in the city popular for brass handicrafts industry.
What Happened on 13th August 1980
When over 40,000 Muslims gathered for Eid prayer, no one foreknew that Moradabad’s Eidgah glistening with white Kurtas and dipped in the smell of Ittar will be painted in red. Before the prayer began, a pig meandered in the place of worship—which was also alleged to be left there on purpose by Congress to incite communal violence—and a group of Muslims entreated the policemen on duty to drive it away as it was interrupting the prayer. An argument broke out between the group of Muslims and police which turned into a clash. However, instead of settling the matters with dialogue or with law enforcement tactics, the police indiscriminately fired at the Muslim gathering and took lives of 300 Muslims. It grew into a series of violence that lasted until December of that year, claiming over 2500 lives in total.
Media and the Spell of Turning a Massacre into a Riot
Just two days past the massacre, Indra Gandhi claimed in her independence-day speech that the violence had the involvement of foreign anti-India forces and figures like Romesh Thapar and Krishna Gandhi ended up blaming Muslims for it. Indian media also built the narrative in a way that it either criminalised Muslims or balanced the incident to make it look like a communal riot. The communal angle was first introduced by the police who offered a different version of the incident where unsurprisingly, Muslims were the culprits for an incident where they bore the highest brunt of the violence. It weakened Muslims economically as the Brassware industry was affected. The police alleged that Muslims had started firing—even though no weapon came inside the Eidgah and no imprint of bullets were found on the standing walls of their side—and it was a mere response from the police. The MP Syed Shahabuddin questioned the police version of the story and compared the incident with the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy.
What Changed in the Last 40 Years?
Delhi pogrom lead to unlawful arrests of Muslims activists booked under draconian laws like UAPA and sedition. Thousands of Muslims—that remained unnamed—from trans-Yamuna were also incarcerated for alleged violence in the pogrom that left innumerable Muslims without a roof atop their head and their sources of livelihood burned to ashes. Moradabad violence didn’t even end totally, and police made a flurry of arrests of Muslims. Tariq Farooqui witnessed Muslims receiving blows of lathis as they were taken out from buses. “Beating started right when the detainees were alighting from the buses and lathis landed on their heads, shoulders, legs, abdomen and chest. Most of them, just after walking a few meters from the buses, were drenched in the blood due to lathi blows,” he further wrote. It could be compared with the viral video from north-east Delhi where policemen are seen forcing five injured Muslims to sing national anthem, which lead to the death of 23-year-old Kardampuri-resident Faizan.
Moradabad massacre Delhi pogrom both hurt Muslims economically. Police acted in the same way. And Media’s reporting was no different. The only difference in the state-sponsored crimes happening since the last 70 years during the rule of Congress and BJP against Muslims is the difference of numbers. Everything else remains the same. With the rising Hindu majoritarianism, the future is already a haunting spectre. However, the political awakening and resistance in the Muslim community that rose above the heath is a broad silver lining that none should overlook.