A look at three such cases in Madhya Pradesh's Khandwa.
On January 18, hours after a video went viral, showing a college student being thrashed by a group of people in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, the police arrested six people and filed a case in the matter.
But the police weren’t showing speed and efficiency. They had been informed of the assault 15 days ago – yet took no action until the video found its way to social media. It was shot on January 3 in the parking lot of a shopping complex. The student has been identified as Shahbaz Khan, a postgraduate student. His attackers have been identified as belonging to right-wing Hindu groups, including the Hindu Jagran Manch and the Hindu Student Army.
Accusing him of “love jihad”, they dragged him to a police station where the Khandwa police filed a molestation case against him.
Newslaundry has since learned that there are several similar cases in the state. Led by Hindutva activists, they claim to be tackling “love jihad” in the state – a Hindutva bogey that claims Muslim men seduce Hindu women with the express purpose of converting them to Islam.
In the cases scrutinised by Newslaundry, those attacked alleged the hand of the Hindu Student Army, which was founded in 2018 by a man named Madhav Jha and five others after the Mandsaur rape case in 2018. It began in Indore and now operates in Khandwa, Khargone and Burhanpur.
In at least two cases, Madhav Jha was mentioned to have led the assaults on Muslim men. But he’s never been arrested, and the police haven’t named him in an FIR.
‘They told me to say they caught me with a girl’
Shahbaz is shaken by the turn of events. On the afternoon of January 3, he had dropped his sister at SN College. He then went to the local market and returned to the college to pick her up. Near the college gate, he went to a Jio store to buy a SIM card when “two to three boys” accosted him at around 2 pm.
“They asked my name. As soon as I told them, they began hurling abuses at me,” Shahbaz told Newslaundry on the phone. “They called me religious slurs like baanda.”
Baanda is a derogatory term used towards Muslims in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. Shahbaz said the group began “beating” him.
“People were mutely watching. I asked for help but no one intervened,” he said. “The group took me to the parking lot of Vishal Megamart near the college and beat me. They snatched my phone and checked the photos on it. They hurled abuses at the photos of my sister and family members. They then checked my contact list and asked why I had numbers of Hindu girls.”
Shahbaz alleged the group then checked his chats with a Hindu schoolfriend and beat him again. “They said ‘how dare you chat with a Hindu girl’ and kept beating me.”
He said this continued from 2 pm to 5 pm. “They told me to shout the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’. They told me to say they’d caught me with a girl, that she had been naked and I had been lying next to her. They forced me to say all this on video,” he said. “At 5 pm, they took me to a temple near the college, called my schoolfriend’s brother, abused him, and told him to file a complaint against me on behalf of his sister.”
Shahbaz said he was then “dragged” to Kotwali police station.
“I was put in lockup. My attackers were joined by some other friends and they told the police to file a case of ‘love jihad’ against me,” he said. He said the Hindu schoolfriend and her family even arrived at the police station after being called by his attackers.
“It’s not her fault or her family’s fault,” he added. “These people forced them to do so.” The police then carted Shahbaz to a hospital – he told Newslaundry he had a “severe ache” in his chest – and then filed an FIR on their own and made him sign it. The FIR said Shahbaz had been “talking to a girl” when three or four people accused him, assaulted him, and left him with “minor injuries”.
Shahbaz said it wasn’t true that he had been “talking to a girl”. He also claimed that the police asked him to sign his FIR against the attackers, but that this FIR claimed he was “talking to a girl”.
When questioned, superintendent of police Vivek Singh said, “It’s mandatory for police to accept the complaints of sexual harassment, that’s why we register these complaints.”
When the video went viral on January 18, the police arrested six people: Aniket Raipure, Ravi Kumayu, Prathmesh Patil, Sunil Mahajan, Abhishek Verma and Vishal Jave. They were booked under section 151 of the Indian Penal Code. All are members of the Hindu Student Army.
But Shahbaz said the man who “led” the attack on him was Madhav Jha, a coordinator of the Hindu Jagran Manch. Jha was not named in the FIR and was not arrested.
‘They said only Ram can save us’
Seven days after Shahbaz’s attack, a similar group allegedly carried out an attack on two Muslim youths in Khandwa.
The second attack took place on January 10, when a group of Hindutva men attacked Sarfaraz Khan, 21, and Salman Mansuri, 19, when they were sitting with a friend at a restaurant in Khandwa.
Sarfaraz works as a driver and Salman is an electrician from Sarola village.
Sarfaraz told Newslaundry the two of them were at Basra Cold Drinks with a woman friend of Salman’s. Two men came up to them and asked the woman’s name. She was Hindu, and the two men got very angry, Sarfaraz said.
“I asked them what the issue was and they started abusing us,” he said. “They said ‘saale momediyan ladke hokar Hindu ladki ko ghuma rahe ho, baith neeche verna maarunga tere ko.’” You guys are Muslims and roaming with a Hindu girl. Sit down or I will beat you.
Salman and Sarfaraz were then allegedly dragged out of the restaurant to the road, where the men “started beating us”.
“Some more boys came and took us behind a chicken shop, called Hindu Jhatka Centre, near SN College,” Sarfaraz said. “They assaulted us. By then, some 20-25 people were there and they hit us for nearly two hours with belts and sticks. You can’t even imagine how mercilessly they hit us.”
Sarfaraz said their friend had followed and tried to explain they were just friends, and that she wasn’t being harassed. However, the mob “started forcing her to file a complaint and called her parents”.
“They took us to Kotwali police station and got us arrested,” he said. “They used the girl’s name to file a complaint that we had assaulted her and were forcing her to marry Salman. The police listened to them. They took our complaint later at night but kept us in lockup overnight.”
Salman said he’d come to the city to collect a payment from a contractor when he ran into Sarfaraz. They had tea at a stall in Ghanta Ghar and then decided to get cold drinks at the eatery.
“While on our way to Basra Cold Drinks, I met a friend from my village,” he said. “I invited her to have snacks with us. I never knew it would cost me so badly. When the men beat us, my friend explained many times who she was, but they didn’t listen to her. I still have pain in my ribs. We were forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. They said only Ram can save us.”
Salman and Sarfaraz were released the next day but the local media – including publications like Shiksha Nyak, Dainik Bhaskar and Navbharat Times – had already reported that two Muslim men had been arrested for “blackmailing” a minor Hindu girl with “compromising” photos.
Both men were booked under section 354 of the penal code. In a cross-FIR by Salman and Sarfaraz, the attackers were identified as Anish Arjhare, Monu Gor and unnamed others from the Hindu Jagran Manch and Hindu Student Army. Arjhare is also the district coordinator of the Hindu Jagran Manch.
Arjhare is triumphant though. He described Salman and Sarfaraz as vidharmi, heretics, and claimed their woman friend had “shouted for help” which is when his group intervened.
“When we got there, they started running. But they fell and were caught by the public who assaulted them,” he said. “We have a good network in Khandwa. Whenever a Muslim boy tries to trap a Hindu girl, we get informed. People know the Hindu Jagran Manch is there for the safety of Hindu girls.”
Arjhare boasted that his group had “got justice” in “37 such cases”.
“We provide protection to girls and their families. We convince them to file FIRs and provide them with lawyers,” he said. “In some cases, we’ve even barged inside hotel rooms and handed over the Muslim boys to the police.”
When asked about this case and the assault on Shahbaz, Balram Singh, the town inspector at Kotwali police station, said, “We don’t want anyone to take the law into their own hands. Generally the girls themselves file the complaints but we cannot say with certainty that the complainants are not influenced by the boys who assist them to file the complaints.”
62 days in jail
In 2021, a Muslim youth spent 62 days in jail after a Hindutva crowd “caught” him, assaulted him, and “forced” a Hindu woman to file a case against him in July that year. Lala Salman Khan, 23, told Newslaundry he had merely been friends with the woman in Khandwa. He was released by the Jabalpur High Court when the woman retracted her statement.
Khan and the woman were friends for over two and a half years.
“She used to study at SN College,” he told Newslaundry. “One day, she called me to meet her at college, which I’ve done before too. It was around 11 am when I got there. We were sitting and chatting near the college gate when the principal and two staff members asked me for an ID card. I told them I’m not a student and had just come to meet my friend. My friend told them that too.”
But the principal, Mukesh Jain, “got angry”.
“He asked her what business she had with a Muslim boy,” Khan said. “He told her he was going to call her parents for roaming with a Muslim. We kept trying to explain but they were in no mood to listen. One of the staff members dragged me by my collar to the principal’s office. The principal slapped me twice and snatched away my phone.”
Madhav Jha was allegedly waiting inside the principal’s office, Khan said. “While the principal called me ‘jihadi’, Jha called me ‘terrorist’. They said Muslims are born to create unrest, that we are evil. The principal said he’d make sure my house gets destroyed.”
Meanwhile, the woman’s parents were telephoned and Khan was kept in the office for nearly three hours. He said a crowd of “50-100 people” had gathered in the stretch from the office to the college gate. Jain called the police and a group of policemen arrived.
“The police marched me out of the office. That’s when the crowd attacked me,” Khan said. “I got three stitches on my head because of my injuries.”
An FIR was filed against Khan at Kotwali police station based on a complaint that Khan said the woman was pressured to file.
“The police wrote in the FIR that I was forcing my friend to convert and threatening to kill her if she didn’t agree to marry me,” Khan said. “I was in jail for 62 days. My friend submitted a statement saying she was forced to file a complaint.”
Khan alleged that he had also submitted a complaint but the police did not take cognisance.
A crusade against ‘love jihad’
Madhav Jha was named by Khan and Shahbaz as being “involved” in the attacks on them, but he has not been mentioned in any FIR.
He told Newslaundry his name came up because “all these matters are related to love jihad”.
“These people eye colleges, internet cafes and coaching centres in the city and trap Hindu girls,” he said. “To prevent such cases, some manhandling – maybe four or five slaps – will happen. In the recent case, the boy Shahbaz was harassing the girl. Our boys saw him. He threatened our students of the Hindu Student Army after which a little bit of violence happened.”
But this “little bit of thrashing” was an assault over hours. Jha shrugged it off. “It’s not like they pre-planned to beat him with sticks. It’s nothing.”
He added, “In the case of Sarfaraz and Salman, they were not even beaten. They were just slapped. In such cases, five or six slaps is a normal thing. They were handed to the police. They were blackmailing girls.”
While offering no evidence whatsoever, Jha said “150 cases of love jihad” took place in Khandwa over the past year, and that he personally “sorted” 30 or 40 cases in the last two months.
“Generally, in such cases, we don’t start with the Hindu-Muslim angle. We project them as a case of harassment and molestation,” he said.
Why? “Because we don’t want to disturb the harmony of the city.”
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