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BJP elected representative and legislator Vikram Saini and 11 others were sentenced on Tuesday, October 11 to two years imprisonment in a Muzaffarnagar riots case by a special MP/MLA court. Apart from convicting them of rioting and other offences, the court has also imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 each. The Special Judge Gopal Upadhyay acquitted 15 other accused in the case for lack of evidence.
The BJP MLA and 26 others were facing trial for their alleged role in the violence at Kawal village when a crowd was returning after the cremation of two Jat youths. This is the second Muzaffarnagar case which has ended in conviction.
The killing of the two youths – Gaurav and Sachin – and one Shahnawaz triggered led to riots in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining areas in August and September 2013, claiming 60 lives and leaving 40,000 people – many of them Muslims – displaced. Saini was then the pradhan of Kawal village.
Saini, now the BJP MLA from Khatauli in Uttar Pradesh, has told the media that he will file an appeal against the verdict. The MLA and others were taken into custody and later granted bail on furnishing two sureties each of Rs 25,000 for approaching the high court.
All 12, including Saini, were convicted under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharging his duty), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), and 149 (unlawful assembly). Vikram Saini was also booked under the National Security Act.
Saini is the BJP MLA from Khatauli. Saini has been in the news consistently, for controversial reasons. After Article 370 was read down in August 2019, he reportedly said that that BJP workers were “excited” because they could marry “fair girls from Kashmir”. A serial hate offender, in January 2019, Saini also said that those who do not feel safe in India “should be bombed”. In January 2018, he declared that since India is called ‘Hindustan’, the country belongs to Hindus. In early 2022, while campaigning for the Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections was afoot, Saini was chased away from a village in his own constituency. He was, however, elected as an MLA for the second time.
Saini’s lawyer Bharatveer Ahlawat told the media that an appeal would be filed against the judgement. “The court has acquitted all accused from the charge of attempt to murder,” Ahlawat said. Government counsel Narendra Sharma told the Indian Express that 11 people, including Saini, were convicted under charges relating to rioting, rioting armed with deadly weapons, act endangering life or personal safety of others, assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty, intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace and criminal intimidation.
Sharma said the 12th accused was convicted under the Arms Act. “The court, later in the day, granted bail to all 12 accused including Vikram Saini. They were released after depositing two sureties, of Rs 25,000 each.”
He also said 15 others were acquitted in the case for want of evidence. In all, nine prosecution witnesses were examined by the court. The Muzaffarnagar riots that spread to neighbouring districts left 62 people dead and displaced an estimated population of over 60,000.
According to the prosecution, the case is of August 28, 2013 after youths Shahnawaz, Sachin and Gaurav were killed at Kawaal town in Muzaffarnagar. Police said Sachin and Gaurav, the main accused in the murder of Shahnawaz, were killed by villagers. The killings triggered communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts. According to Sharma, a communal clash took place on August 28, 2013, when families of Sachin and Gaurav were returning home after performing their last rites. Police reached the spot and detained nine persons.
An FIR was filed against 28 people and police later filed a chargesheet. During the course of trial, one person died, Sharma said. All accused were out on bail during the trial.
Hate speech is not prosecuted
As Sabrangindia had reported, a Muzaffarnagar court has accepted the closure report filed by Special Investigation Team (SIT) with respect to BJP MLA Sangeet Som’s controversial statement with respect to an inflammatory video ahead of the communal riots in the area, in 2013. Over 60 people had died and around 40,000 were displaced in the violence. Although the closure report was filed four years ago, the court took cognisance and accepted the same on March 9.
“After the closure report was filed, the court registered it and issued a notice to the complainant, Subodh Kumar Singh, but despite sending repeated notices, he did not present himself before the court,” remarked the court. The court further noted that the complainant died during riots in Bulandshahar, without being able to make an appearance in court. In 2018, Singh was attacked by a mob when he went to restore calm in an area after violence erupted over rumour of illegal cow slaughter. NDTV reported that Singh was hit with an axe and was shot at. His body was found inside his official police vehicle, abandoned in a field.
Som responded to the court’s acceptance of the closure report, “I have said it time and again, even when they sent me to jail, that an impartial enquiry will bring out the truth. This is a fraud case, both the public and God will teach them a lesson. This is what has happened. They even formed a SIT, it was the Samajwadi Party government that did it, and the same SIT filed a final or closure report in court that they found no proof against me.”
A case was registered against him and 200 others under sections 420 (cheating), 153a (promoting enmity between groups) and 120b (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 66 of the Information and Technology (IT) Act for circulating a clip linked to the murder of two youths, triggering communal tension in the district. It was later found that the said video was old and had been shot in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.
In December 2020, the BJP-led UP government decided to withdraw cases against several BJP leaders included MLAs Sangeet Som, Suresh Rana, and Kapil Dev Aggarwal as well as right wing leader Sadhvi Prachi.
In 2013, an Akhilesh Yadv-led Samajwadi party government was in power in the state. The Uttar Pradesh government had then registered a total of 510 cases relating to the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 were registered in five districts of the Meerut Zone against 6,869 accused. However, the Supreme Court was told in August 2021, that out of these 510 cases, the chargesheet was filed in 175 cases, final reports were filed in 165 and 170 were expunged.
Thereafter, 77 cases were withdrawn by the state government under Section 321 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The government orders did not give any reasons for the withdrawal of cases and merely stated that the administration, “after full consideration”, has taken a decision to withdraw the particular case.
In 2019, a Muzaffarnagar court awarded life imprisonment to seven persons in a case relating to the murder of Sachin and Gaurav. A Special Investigation Team , formed to investigate the Muzaffarnagar riots case, filed a closure report in Shahnawaz murder case, prompting his family to file a protest application in court.
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