On Christmas Day, the BJP’s youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, and fellow Hindutva groups held a motorbike rally in Begumbagh area of Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, ostensibly to collect donations for the Ram Temple being built on the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Really, though, they were looking to cause trouble, claimed Tigul Khan, 19, a resident who works in catering, because they began shouting slogans threatening violence against Muslims and abuses at women who were watching the rally from their rooftops.
Apparently incensed at being abused, two women later identified as Yasmeen and Hina threw stones at the rallyists. This was cue for the Hindutvawadis to unleash violence in Begumbagh, for the media to , and for the police to wantonly arrest them and destroy their property. That the administration is using the incident to go after the Muslims is evident from the fact that they have arrested 18 of them and booked five under the draconian National Security Act but not even bothered to question the Hindutvawadis blamed for unleashing the violence.
Begumbagh, home to around 300 families, is predominently Muslim. So, when it was racked with violence, several media outlets promptly blamed the Muslims. In fact, most news reports claimed the violence had started after the Hindutva rallyists were pelted with stones from Muslim houses. Using this as the pretext, police and civil officials went to Begumbagh the following day with a bulldozer and demolished a Muslim family’s home. Illegally. They, however, did not touch the one house from where stones had actually been pelted, Newslaundry found on the ground, because it belongs to a Hindu.
“They came with a bulldozer on December 26 to demolish the house from where stones were pelted. But the owner told the police he was Hindu. He showed them the temple in his house and said his son was a member of the Bajrang Dal. They left his house alone and razed ours, even though not a single stone was thrown from there,” said Abdul Hamid, 62, showing us around a heap of rubble that had been his home for 30 years.
Hamid, a painter, had built his house on provided by the state government over three decades ago.
“I and my sons were out for work when the incident happened. We work as labourers. We came to know about the incident only after we returned in the evening. The next afternoon they came to demolish our house. Our neighbours objected to the house being demolished. The city qazi, Khalil ur Rehman, also arrived and told them if they didn’t stop the demolition within 15 minutes, the situation would worsen. The collector stopped the bulldozer and asked the qazi to go with him for a discussion,” said Hamid. Qazi is a local Muslim religious leader. “As soon as they left the demolition resumed. They didn’t even let us take our belongings out.”
“One of my daughters is getting married in May. We had bought jewellery for her wedding which is ruined now. Our utensils and some other things we had to throw in the drain,” Hamid continued, “We are now living in a room our neighbour Kikaram rented to us.”
This is the same house the officials had come to raze, but did not after Kikaram showed them the temple. Kikaram’s house, like Hamid’s and everyone else’s in the colony, is built on patta land.
“When the police arrived we implored them with folded hands to spare us because we had done nothing wrong. We also showed them our temple room,” Kikaram’s wife Meerabai, 70, said. “We told them whatever had happened it was done by Hina. So the police left after that.”
Hina was a tenant of Kikaram and Meerabai, living with her two children in a room at the back of the house. “We have doorways on both front and back. We gave a room at the back on rent to a woman named Hina, who lived with two children,” said Kikaram, 75, “On the day of the violence, we were home but we didn’t see who actually threw stones.”
A video captured with a cellphone shows Hina and Yasmeen throwing stones from Kikaram’s rooftop. Yasmeen was a tenant of Hamid. She’s now jailed. Hina is gone, along with her children, and the police are searching for her. “She left at night without paying rent for the last six months,” said Meerabai. “She took some of her belongings with her.”
Ujjain’s district collector, Asheesh Singh, that his officials razed Hamid’s house to economically hurt “criminals who resort to such acts of stonepelting”. But Hina and Yasmeen threw stones from Kika Ram’s rooftop? Yes, they did, the collector admitted, but Yasmeen lived in Hamid’s house.
Even so, what legal authority did he have to demolish a citizen’s house?
The collector wouldn’t say. He checked our Whatsapp message asking for a response but didn’t reply. Nor did he take our phone calls.
His deputy, additional district magistrate Narendra Raghuwanshi, listened to our question. But instead of answering he claimed to be in a meeting with the district magistrate, and hung up.
Ujjain Municipal Corporation’s commissioner, Kshitij Singhal, and its building officer, Pankaj Bhargav, didn’t respond either despite repeated attempts. Bhargav, who oversaw the demolition of Hamid’s house, said he was busy making arrangements for the festival of Makar Sankranti when we called him on January 13, and asked us to call the next day. The next day he wouldn’t take our call, or even the day after.
So, we asked Anshuman Srivastava, a lawyer at the Madhya Pradesh High Court, if the administration had any legal authority to demolish Hamid’s house. “It is an illegal act,” he said. “The administration cannot do this. If someone is accused of committing an offence, then he or she must be produced in court. It’s for the court alone to decide the punishment.”
Nearly a fortnight after the violence, when we visited Begumbagh, the Muslims complained that they were being victimised and criminalised. “We have been demanding an impartial investigation. The police have a video of the incident and they should take action against whichever side has done wrong,” said Khalil ur Rehman, the qazi. “The people whose home was demolished are innocent. The police have arrested 18 of our people. We will arrange a lawyer to help them.”
The Mahakal police, who have jurisdiction in Begumbagh, have registered three separate FIRs related to the violence of December 25. One by Abdul Shakir, a Begumbagh resident, another by Navdeep Singh Raghuvanshi of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, and the third by Bharat Mata Mandir Trust.
Shakir’s FIR accuses the Hindutva groups of causing the violence. “We are investigating this case. We have asked the petitioner for help with the inquiry so it can move forward, but no reply has come from them yet,” said the investigation officer Chunnilal Male.
Have the police questioned or arrested any of the Hindutva rallyists? No, they haven’t, Male replied.
Have they at least questioned them for organising the rally without obtaining the required permission? “We are trying to ascertain who organised it and who all were involved in this incident. We will start questioning people once the investigation is done.”
Asked why the administration had not acted on the complaint against the Hindutva cadre, the , “The residents claimed that the clashes erupted as those in the rally hurled abuses and chanted offensive slogans, but they have not been able to come up with any concrete evidence. We are ready to take action if any video proving it is brought to our notice.”
In stark contrast, the police have acted with alacrity on Raghuvanshi’s FIR which accuses Begumbagh’s Muslims of throwing stones on his rally. “We have arrested 18 people so far. Action has been taken against five of these under the NSA. The police have also arrested the woman Yasmeen while search for Hina is underway,” said Gagan Badal, who is investigating the case at Mahakal police station. “We are also checking the video based on which these actions have been taken.”
The FIR lodged by the Bharat Mata Mandir Trust accuses “unknown persons” of vandalising a signboard at the temple. “No arrest has been made in this case yet,” said the investigating officer Lokendra Singh. “We haven’t found any video footage from near the temple so far.”
Relatives and neighbours of most of the Muslims arrested by the police insist that they are innocent and flatly deny the allegations made against them.
The police told us that Yusuf Mewati, 35, one of the arrested Muslims, is a habitual criminal and drug addict. His younger brother, Moinuddin, grew furious when he heard this. “My brother drives a tractor for a sandstone shop,” he said. “The police nabbed him while he was coming home from work and accused him of stonepelting. Then they slapped NSA on him.”
Sameer Hameed, 21, is one of the five Muslims booked under the NSA. He works as a cook as does his father, Abdul Hameed. “He was cooking food when the incident happened. He works with me,” said Hameed, 56. “He didn’t pelt stones, but the police still arrested him and slapped NSA on him.”
“Some people falsely complained against my son and the police started asking about him. So, I took him to the police station myself,” Hameed said.
There, Hameed alleged, the police demanded a bribe to free his son. “They told me to arrange 50,000 rupees for his release. I could not get the money and he was sent to jail.”
Shadab Khan, 20, was laid low by asthma when the violence took place, yet the police didn’t spare him either. “My son used to drive an auto but he had been home for a while. He suffers from asthma, so we had asked him not to drive the auto anymore,” said his father Akram Khan, 49.
A neighbour of Akram’s who was listening to our conversation confirmed this. “Shadab is innocent,” Maqsood Khan said. “He was sick. How could he have gone and pelted stones? The day of the incident he was sitting right here in front of the house, still they charged him under the NSA.”
Akram continued, “The police came at 4 am and woke us up. They asked if Shadab was home and I said yes. They just grabbed him, and left. They didn’t tell us why they were taking him away. We went to the police station in the morning and found out he had been sent to jail after being charged under NSA.”
Shadab’s mother showed us his medical records. “Look, my son is ill and under treatment,” she said. “He didn’t leave the house that day at all, the whole lane will testify to that. Yet the police took him away.”
Perhaps most flagrant is the arrest of Aslam Altu, 50, an autorickshaw driver. He had been so ill, several of his neighbours confirmed, that he couldn’t even get out of his house, let alone throw stones.
“He would lie down at home because his body ached all over,” said his wife Jameela, 45. “I’m telling you the truth, my husband used to drink, but he wasn’t keeping well so he wouldn’t go out of the house. You can ask anyone here, even the Hindu families, they will tell you he was home and did not go anywhere.”
She continued, “The police came at about 11 pm on December 25, and told Aslam to go with them to the police station. He replied that he was innocent. But when they started getting aggressive he went.”
Aslam had been named in some police cases around 10 years ago, Jameela said, “but they were old and finished”. “Now, he didn’t have any case against him,” she added. “We told the police repeatedly that he is innocent, but they didn’t listen. They sent him to jail.”
Meanwhile, Hamid, whose family of 19 was rendered homeless overnight, agreed with Tigul Khan that the Hindutva cadre were out to create trouble. “Several rallies come through our area every year. There’s a Mahakal temple not far away and they hold a procession every year. This has never happened before. These people conducted a procession in Ram’s name not once but thrice that day. They shout objectionable slogans, “Baccha baccha Ram ka, chachiyon ke kaam ka,” he said. The slogan is laden with sexual innuendo and roughly translates as, “All Ram’s children are useful for aunties.”
“These people are besmirching Lord Ram’s name in the name of these rallies,” Hamid added.
Pictures by Ashwine Kumar Singh.
A version of this story was previously published on .