On June 13, a video went showing a group of unidentified men assaulting an elderly Muslim man and cutting off his beard in Loni in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad.
Since then, a volley of allegations and counter-allegations has muddied the waters about the nature and motivation of the assault.
So, Newslaundry went on the ground to get some clarity.
The viral video
The video of the assault was shot on June 5. Neither the victim nor the assailants can be heard in it, so it’s hard to confirm whether the old man was forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” – a detail that has become essential to the narrative around this crime, at least on social media.
Residents in Loni and police officials confirmed that even the original copy of the video in circulation does not have audio. Newslaundry verified this by checking the video file.
According to the police’s First Information Report, the assault could have lasted between 2.30 pm to 7.00 pm, when the victim was held hostage. The viral video, however, runs to under a minute. So, it doesn’t present the full picture on what exactly happened in those five hours.
What is clearly visible, though, is the man’s beard being chopped off with a pair of scissors. For this reason, the Ghaziabad police have charged the assailants under the Indian Penal Code for “outraging religious feelings” but have clarified that the attack itself wasn’t motivated by religious animosity.
This is where the story gets conflicting.
Two statements and a political actor
The victim in the video is Abdul Samad Saifi, 72, a resident of Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, who had reportedly come to the National Capital Region to sell amulets.
Once the video was released on social media, it was widely claimed the attack on Saifi was motivated by religious hatred. Saifi, however, didn’t allege so in the police complaint he wrote on June 7 on the basis of which the Ghaziabad police then filed the FIR.
The talking on Saifi's behalf has mostly been done by a local Samajwadi Party leader named Ummed Pahalwan Idrisi, who has, as a result, become a central figure in this story.
Idrisi told Newslaundry he learned about the attack on June 6 and asked Saifi to file a police complaint. He accompanied Saifi to the Loni police station but the police refused to register an FIR. It was only after he went live on Facebook and spoke about the attack, Idrisi alleged, that the police filed an FIR at 7.44 pm on June 7.
The June 6 complaint
Idrisi said the old man wrote the first complaint on June 6. “On June 5, at around 2.30 in the afternoon, I took an autorickshaw near Loni Golchakkar,” Saifi wrote. “When I got down at the Loni border, I took another rickshaw to Hajipur Behta Dargah. After some time, two men sat in the rickshaw and tied my mouth with a scarf around my neck and aimed pistols at my head. They took me to a jungle and locked me inside a room.”
He continued, “They kept me locked till 7 in the night and beat me with sticks, belts, and chopped off my beard with scissors. They asked me to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and threatened to kill me. They said they had killed many more Muslims like me.”
Asked about this complaint and why the police didn’t lodge an FIR that same day, Akhilesh Mishra, the Loni police station head, rejected Idrisi’s claim. “The June 6 complaint is forged. We never received any complaint on that day and it does not even have the police stamp on it. Only on the basis of the June 7 complaint, we lodged the FIR.”
Newslaundry independently checked the complaint and found that it doesn’t have an official police stamp. That, however, doesn’t mean that Saifi didn’t go to the police with this complaint, only that the police didn’t accept it.
The June 7 complaint
A day later, Saifi filed another complaint on the basis of which the police filed the FIR. This complaint is more or less the same as the previous day’s, except it makes no mention of Saifi being forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. This complaint does have a police stamp.
In the June 7 complaint, Saifi said, “On June 5, at 2.30 pm, I reached the Loni border to go to Behta Hazipur. When I reached the border, an autorickshaw driver asked where I wanted to go. I told him that I wanted to go to Behta Hazipur. I sat in the rickshaw and the auto driver took me to the railway underpass. Then I asked where the masjid was. The auto driver and his three friends started abusing and thrashing me. Then they took me to an isolated place, locked me in a room and threatened to kill me.”
Saifi continued, “After beating me up, they took the auto and went back. I asked for directions from local residents and went to my relative’s house in Sahid Nagar, Ghaziabad.”
In the FIR the police registered on the basis of this complaint, there’s no mention of the ‘amulet angle’ either.
A Facebook Live
On June 7, before the FIR was lodged, Idrisi streamed a where Saifi spoke about the assault and, for the first time, alleged that the assailants forced him to chant the Hindu religious slogan “Jai Shri Ram”. “They asked me to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and threatened to kill me,” he claimed. “They also said they had killed many Muslims like me.”
Communal or not?
When Newslaundry met Idrisi, he did not outright call the assault on Saifi communal, only describing the assailant’s behaviour towards the elderly man as “inhumane”.
“Do you think the attack on the elderly Muslim man was communal?” we asked.
“I won’t comment on that,” he replied. “I do not want to politicise or communalise the matter. I am from the Samajwadi party but I’m not bringing politics into this. But if you see the accused Parvesh Gujjar’s Facebook profile, you will know which party he is associated with. Parvesh is associated with the local BJP MLA.”
The MLA is Nand Kishore Gujjar. However, Newslaundry could not independently verify Idrisi’s claim of Parvesh being closely associated with the BJP leader. Several calls to the MLA went unanswered.
Idrisi described Parvesh as a “local goon”, but wouldn’t talk about the other accused. “What he did to the old man by cutting his beard and thrashing him shows his mentality,” he said of Parvesh.
Asked if the old man was attacked for selling amulets to the assailants that supposedly didn't work, as the police have claimed, Idrisi didn’t rule out the possibility. “If this was the issue, then the accused should have gone to the police station and reported about it,” he said, referring to Parvesh. “But no one has the right to beat up anyone. Even if they beat him up, why would they chop off his beard?”
The place where the attack on the elderly man allegedly took place.
Newslaundry was not able to speak to the victim’s family, based in Bulandshahr, but they have rejected the amulet claim, saying they are .
However, in an interview with TV9 Bharatvarsh, Saifi reiterated that he was beaten, his beard was cut off and that he was forced to chant "Jai Shri Ram". He also said that he was threatened at gunpoint and refused the charge of making amulets for the accused.
So far the police have arrested three men on the basis of Saifi’s statement recorded on June 14. “Previously, the FIR was lodged against an unnamed auto driver and his friends. On June 14, we took a statement from Saifi on the basis of which the rest of the accused were identified and we arrested Kallu and Aadil. We are still searching for other accused,” Mishra, the Loni police station head, told Newslaundry.
The six men are Parvesh Gujjar and Kallu Gujjar, who are cousins, along with four Muslim men – Aadil, Polly, Aarif and Mushahid. Parvesh was arrested on June 12, Adil and Kallu on June 14.
Asked about the motive for the assault, Mishra said the alleged assailants were angry with Saifi for selling them amulets which they believed did not work as promised.
The prime accused, Parvesh, blamed Saifi for his wife’s miscarriage, he added.
Kallu, Adil and Pravesh are in custody, while the rest of the accused are on the run, Mishra said, adding they are all aged 18 to 25.
All six men have been booked under penal provisions for wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt, criminal intimidation, and committing malicious acts to outrage religious feelings.
The Samajwadi Party leader, meanwhile, is being accused of trying to “communalise” a crime that isn’t so, including by the father of one of the accused, Aadil. “He is unnecessarily trying to make it a communal issue,” Saleem Pehalwan said. “He has his own interests.”
Saleem is a social worker who owns a Loni gym, which Parvesh would frequent. Aadil and Parvesh know each other from the gym and Saleem said his son was called to Parvesh’s house in the afternoon of June 5. Why? Saleem said he didn’t know. All he knew was that his son reached Parvesh’s house after the assault had happened. “He was never a part of it,” he insisted, adding that he might have gone there to sort out the matter.
Rejecting the police’s allegation that Aadil was one of the six assailants, Saleem asked why he would cut a fellow Muslim man’s beard? “This is bizarre,” he said.
Several people whom we spoke with in Loni made similar allegations against Idrisi of “communalising” the criminal act.
Haji Zakir Ali, a Bahujan Samaj Party leader, claimed Idrisi was using the matter to win the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly election. “Making it a communal issue ahead of the election might be a political strategy,” he said.
Ali maintained that the assault wasn’t motivated by religious hatred but a dispute over amulets Saifi had reportedly sold to the assailants. “However, they shouldn't have chopped off his beard,” he added.
On June 16, the Ghaziabad police filed an FIR against Idrisi under the penal sections for promoting enmity, outraging religious feelings, intentional insult, conspiracy as well as under the IT Act for transmitting obscene material online.
According to the , it states,“The accused made an unnecessary video with the complainant and, without verifying the facts of the case, carried out religious discussions on his Facebook, which spread animosity in the community. The accused attempted to give the incident a communal colour and disturb societal balance. This act hurt religious sentiments. The particular act presented a threat to law and order and tried to divide between Hindus and Muslim community.”
Saleem Pehalwan's gym in Loni.
After the attack, Saifi went to stay with Idrisi. Several local residents told Newslaundry they have seen the old man at Idrisi’s house or office in Loni.
Idrisi didn’t dispute this but when we asked to meet Saifi or even speak to him over the phone, he said the old man was unwell.
He also would not confirm if Saifi was still staying with him, merely replying, “Give him 2-3 days. Some Congress leaders and Amanatullah Khan of Aam Aadmi Party were supposed to meet Saifi. If they talk to him they will give this a political angle, so wait for 2-3 days.”
Idrisi said he would do another Facebook Live at 9 pm on June 16. “You never know, Saifi might join me,” he added. “You will have to wait.”
He did at the announced time, and Saifi joined briefly, apparently from Bulandshahr, but did not talk.
Meanwhile, when Newslaundry went to visit Parvesh’s family in Banthla village, his home was locked. We met their neighbour who accused three other men of being involved in the attack, all of them Hindu. These names haven’t figured in the FIR yet. None of these men were home when Newslaundry visited.
Parvesh’s neighbour also backed the allegation that he was “a local goon who intimidated and loots people” as Idrisi had said. “Once, he held me at gunpoint and forced me to pay Rs 25,000,” he added, showing a screenshot of the online bank transaction, a copy of which Newslaundry accessed.
‘Provoking communal sentiments’
The Uttar Pradesh police, meanwhile, are going after a few mediapersons who commented on the assault. On June 15, the Loni police named Mohammad Zubair of Alt News, independent journalists Saba Naqvi and Rana Ayyub and the Wire in an FIR for allegedly "provoking communal sentiments” for tweeting about the attack. They also named Twitter and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Shama Mohamed and Maskoor Usmani for tweeting on the incident without "verifying facts".
The police haven’t clarified why they have named only six people, all of them Muslim, in the FIR even though Saifi’s allegations from the Facebook live were widely reported in the media, including by , , and .
This report has been updated with new information and the headline changed to reflect this.