Nineteen-year-old Mohammad Arif uploaded a video on WhatsApp in which he can be seen hurling abuses at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yesterday morning, he was arrested by Jharkhand Police for hurting religious sentiments under the Information Technology Act. Importantly, the action taken was suo motu. As ill advised and offensive as the clip might be to the prime minister, how it hurts the religious sentiments of people is best known to the police.
Arif, a resident of Hazaribagh’s Kandabera village, can be seen hurling invective at Modi for demonetisation, and upbraiding him for banning the sale of beef. He dared Modi to establish a blanket ban on beef. Towards the end of the video, Arif also shared his address and mobile number.
Hazaribagh Superintendent of Police Anoop Birtharay told Newslaundry, “A video hurting religious sentiment of a particular community was uploaded by him (Arif). The villagers showed this video to the Station Incharge and he took a suo motu action.” He added that if the police had not taken swift action in the case, it might have triggered tension. “He has been arrested and will be sent to judicial custody tomorrow,” said Birtharay. Arif was sent to 14-day judicial custody on Tuesday.
When we reached out to Station House Officer (SHO) Avdesh Kumar Singh at two different times in the day – the clarity of the police version got a bit muddled.
Singh told us, “Kal laye the raat mein….(we arrested him at night)”. When asked where he was arrested, the SHO said, “Bachra…gaon nahi hai Bachra hai woh colliery illaka hai. Ek video WhatsApp par dala hua tha – Narendra Modi ko gaali de raha tha aur gau mans ke baarein mein bol raha hai (He was arrested from Bachra, a colliery area. He had posted a video on WhatsApp abusing Modi and referring to beef.)”
According to Singh, the first information report was registered under IPC 295 A and IT Act 66 C. Singh said the video was forwarded to him by someone else. Imposing the IT Act section can be understood as it was uploaded and disseminated through WhatsApp. Arif could have been charged under relevant sections of the IPC for using foul and hurtful language. But to equate that to hurting the religious sentiments of a community is especially puzzling, and the charge contains a harsher sentence. Especially when the police inspector himself is the complainant in the case. “Complainant hum hain, hum khud hi hain (I am, myself, the complainant in the case),” said Singh.
When Arif was produced in court, the IT Act charge was removed and he was booked under IPC 295 A and then sent to judicial custody.
Singh claimed that during the investigation, Arif said, “Hum naadani mein kar diya hai (I am naïve and did it without thinking).”
The mobile number mentioned in the video is switched off since the arrest.
Newslaundry failed to reach out the family of a 19-year-old mechanic. The story will be updated as and when we get their version.
Notably, when this correspondent spoke to Singh again in the evening, there was a drastic shift in his statement from earlier in the day. Singh said Arif was first called on Sunday night and was let off after questioning. “Aaj kiye hain 10 baje subeh…Kandaber se arrest kiya hain … haan bhai gaon se kiye hain (He was arrested at 10 in the morning from Kandaber. Yes, it is his village,)” said the SHO.
Importantly, Singh had called Arif on Sunday night for questioning based on information from “someone”. But as the complainant in the case, it is strange he only received the video in the morning, “mere mobile par aaj post hua hai (I have received the video on my mobile this morning [Monday])”.
Adding to the confusion, the police are still not sure when and where the video was posted or circulated. “Ye to humko nahi pata hai, hum daal rahe the ki bataenge kab (How would I know? I have not posted the video,)”the SHO said. Clearly irritated by now, Singh said “Hum nahi batana chah rahe hain (I don’t want to say.)”
While Arif’s decision was certainly not the brightest, it is still the opinion, yes, of a teenager. But to go from ill-advised to religiously harmful seems a bit of a stretch.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @tweets_amit.