“Open his bag, brother. See what’s there. Take it out. Come, sisters, daughters, take whatever fits you. He should never be seen in our area again. Hey, you! Never come to our area. Do not be seen in any Hindu area.”
This is what a man in a yellow kurta told Tasleem Banjara, 25, a bangle seller in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. On August 22, Tasleem was assaulted by a Hindu mob in Banganga's Govind Nagar purportedly for his Muslim identity. A video of the assault went viral on social media; four people have been arrested so far.
The man in the yellow kurta was part of the mob. As shown in the video, he took bangles out of Tasleem’s bags, while Tasleem wept on the ground. “I’ve come here for the first time, bhaiya,” Tasleem said. Another man in an orange shirt grabbed him by his collar and slapped him repeatedly. “He’s a Muslim who came to our area,” he said.
Both men then began beating Tasleem, who folded his hands and said, “Babuji, I will never come here. Never in my life.” However, the man in the yellow kurta then turned to the gathering crowd and invited them to participate. “At least give one slap each,” he said. “Consider it revenge for Bombay Bazar. These people should think twice before entering our areas after this.”
Bombay Bazar is a Muslim-majority area in Indore. The crowd complied. The man in the yellow kurta turned to whoever was shooting the video and said, “Make the video in a way so our faces aren’t visible. You make it viral, capture this bastard’s face...”
Tasleem came to Indore last month from Biraichamau village in Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh, hoping to make a living by selling bangles. On August 23 and 24, four people – Rajkumar Bhatnagar, Rakesh Panwar, Vivek Vyas and Vikas Malviya – were arrested in connection with Tasleem’s assault.
Soon after, however, things took a turn.
Social media commentary claimed Tasleem was practising “love jihad” – a conspiracy theory propagated by Hindu supremacists that Muslim men seduce Hindu women with the express aim of converting them to Islam. Others said he had been assaulted for allegedly concealing his identity.
A video statement of Tasleem later did the rounds, where he clarified that after he sold bangles to a woman customer, a man grabbed him and asked whether he was Muslim. Frightened, Tasleem responded that his name was “Bhura” – his nickname. However, he said, he was told he “looked Muslim” and was assaulted.
Then, on August 23, the daughter of one of the arrested filed a complaint at Banganga police station, accusing Tasleem of molestation and voyeurism, among other charges. The girl was a minor. An FIR was filed in the matter on the same day and Tasleem was also booked under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
He has since been sent to three days’ judicial custody.
But why was this FIR filed? And why did the mob attack Tasleem?
Here’s what we found.
The FIR in Tasleem’s assault
Tasleem is the oldest son in his family. Before he came to Indore last month, he lived in his village with his parents, wife and three daughters, and his three younger brothers.
He came to Indore with around 20 others from his village, including his brother Jamal and uncle Mohar Ali. They were staying in a musafirkhana, or travellers’ lodge, in Ranipura.
Newslaundry spoke to Mohar Ali on the telephone.
“We go to different corners of the country to sell bangles before festivals,” Tasleem’s uncle said. “This time, we came to Indore a month before Rakshabandhan. That day, while Tasleem was selling bangles, someone grabbed his collar and asked if he is a Muslim. He got scared and replied that he wasn’t. When they asked his name, he said Bhura, which is his nickname.”
Mohar continued, “But the people who stopped him said, ‘Your face is of a Muslim.’ They started beating him. He had material worth Rs 25,000; all that and around Rs 5,000 cash was snatched away too.”
Following the assault, Tasleem went to Banganga police station. However, his uncle said, an FIR was not filed in the matter. The police allegedly recovered around Rs 4,500 that had been snatched from him and returned it to him.
Mohar said the police advised Tasleem not to file a complaint. “They advised him to save himself as the people who thrashed him were strongmen.” He added that the police allegedly said some members of the mob were from the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a militant Hindutva group.
Soon after, however, local social workers and members of parties like the Congress and the Social Democratic Party of India intervened on Tasleem’s behalf after the video of his assault went viral. On the night of August 22, a group of people gathered at the Central Kotwali police station to protest what had happened.
Tasleem was also there along with some others to get his FIR filed; the activists took him to Central Kotwali police station instead of Banganga because it was the closest police station to his musafirkhana.
“People were deeply hurt by the video,” said Maqsood Lodhi, a local resident. “When it went viral, they tried to find out what had happened and who the victim was. They gathered outside the police station. Local leaders also came and asked the people to disperse, but no one listened.” Lodhi, however, said the crowd had gathered of its own accord; it was not an organised event.
The police’s version is that members of the Popular Front of India and Social Democratic Party of India were “inciting” people outside the police station. So, while an FIR was finally filed at midnight in Tasleem’s assault, the police also filed an FIR against three people for charges related to rioting.
One of the three was Mumtaz Qureshi, a member of the Social Democratic Party of India, who had accompanied Tasleem to file his FIR.
“At first, the police didn’t even register the poor guy’s complaint,” Qureshi told Newslaundry. “They were asking him to let go of the matter. When we came to know about it, we got the FIR registered at Central Kotwali police station. The police booked those people [who assaulted Tasleem] but also slapped various charges on us! I’m amazed at their move. The police accused us of gathering people, inciting them, and blocking roads, when nothing of the sort happened.”
BD Tripathi, the in-charge of Central Kotwali police station, justified the FIR for “rioting”.
“If someone has to register a complaint, they should come decently,” he said. “Two or three people could have come and said what they wanted to. But if so many people gather, protest and disrupt law and order, then we have to register an FIR against them.”
Meanwhile, the FIR in Tasleem’s assault was filed under penal sections related to unlawful assembly, intent to hurt religious feelings, and voluntarily causing hurt, among others. The FIR was later transferred to Banganga police station, which is currently investigating the case.
The controversy over Tasleem’s 'Aadhaar cards'
On August 23, a day after the assault, Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra that the row erupted because Tasleem sold bangles “by posing as a Hindu”.
“He had two Aadhaar cards under different names,” Mishra said. “They have been recovered.” The two cards were reportedly found by the mob in Tasleem’s bag along with his voter ID.
Tasleem’s younger brother Jamal, who is currently in Indore , told Newslaundry Tasleem has two Aadhaar cards because one of them had an incorrect name.
“The two Aadhaar cards have the same number. They bear the same district, the same address,” Jamal said.
Tasleem’s first Aadhaar card had his name as “Tasleem” and his father’s name as “Mohar Ali” – both of which are correct. However, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, which is the central government’s housing scheme, listed his name as “Aslim” and his father’s name as “Mohar Singh”. In order to avail benefits under this scheme, Jamal said, Tasleem got his name in his Aadhar card changed to “Aslim”. However, the Aadhaar number remained the same.
“Similarly, Tasleem’s old ID card [his voter ID] has the name ‘Bhura’, which is his nickname,” Jamal added. “Since most people in the village are uneducated, nobody pays attention to such mistakes.”
Horilal, the pradhan of Tasleem’s village of Biraichamau, corroborated what Jamal said.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong,” Horilal said. “Such mistakes are common in Aadhaar cards and other IDs, especially in villages. Such IDs often bear incorrect names, father’s name, date of birth, etc.”
The FIR against Tasleem
On the evening of August 23, a few policemen came to Tasleem’s musafirkhana at Ranipura. They said a medical examination was required to take further action on his complaint and that he would be questioned, after which he could go home.
So, at around 4 pm, Tasleem went with the police to Hira Nagar police station. He was accompanied by a friend named Makhtu Khan and one other person.
“The cops said they will let Tasleem go after a medical examination and questioning,” Makhtu told Newslaundry. “We went along with him to ensure his safety. His medical examination was conducted. But then they locked him up. We had to sit there the whole night. We were told to wait for a senior officer. Tasleem was crying a lot.”
Later, they discovered that an FIR had been filed against Tasleem at 5.45 pm at Banganga police station by the daughter of one of those arrested for assaulting Tasleem. The girl was a minor studying in Class 6.
Here’s what the FIR said:
“While Tasleem was selling bangles, the complainant and her mother asked for his name. Tasleem told them his name was Golu and that his father’s name was Mohar Singh. He also showed them a half-burnt voter identity card. After getting this information, they thought he was a good man. The complainant and her mother bought bangles from Tasleem.
“However, when the mother went inside the house to get money, Tasleem started molesting the complainant by touching her hands and cheeks inappropriately and told her that she was ‘very beautiful’. The complainant raised an alarm after which her mother came out and confronted Tasleem. Tasleem threatened to kill both of them and attempted to flee the spot. But he was caught by nearby bhaiyas.”
According to the complaint, that was why Tasleem was assaulted.
The complaint added that two Aadhaar cards – one with the name “Aslim” and father’s name “Mohar Singh”, the others with the names “Tasleem” and “Mohar Ali” – were found in a polythene bag belonging to Tasleem. The bag was handed over to the police.
Tasleem’s father, Mohar Ali, spoke to Newslaundry over the phone from Biraichamau. “My son is a decent person,” he wept. “He was beaten up for being Muslim. He didn’t do anything wrong. We’ve been selling bangles for years but nothing like this happened earlier. My son is not a bad person.”
Mohar added that the police came to his house on August 24. “They noted down the names of everyone in the family,” he said. “They questioned us for about 20 minutes and left.”
Meanwhile, Tasleem’s uncle Mohar Ali in Indore said, “We’re poor. We earn a living by selling bangles. There is no question of molesting someone...We seldom put bangles on customers’ hands ourselves. We do it only when a buyer says so. That day, Tasleem sat with us and cried a lot after coming home. He was thinking about his daughters. He was terrified.”
Newslaundry contacted Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra to ask him why he had claimed that Tasleem “posed as a Hindu”.
“Names can be different [on Aadhaar cards] but the father’s name should be the same,” Mishra replied. “There is only one father even if a person has two names. This person [Tasleem] had three IDs all with different names.”
This is incorrect; a simple Google search reveals that multiple people face this issue. When asked about government documents often having incorrect information, Mishra said, “You can point at any possibility. You have a right to do so. Sometimes people are also wrong. Anything can happen.”
So, was he justifying the attack on Tasleem? “It was wrong,” Mishra said, “and that’s why those people have been arrested.”
Rajendra Soni, the police officer in charge of Banganga police station, told Newslaundry an FIR was filed against Tasleem because “he molested a minor”. “If the minor is saying that, then we have to accept it,” he said firmly, and then disconnected the call.
This piece was in NL Hindi. It was translated to English by Utkarsh Mishra.