Life turned upside-down for Muslim teens arrested for ‘spitting on yatra’

Three Muslim teens were arrested in July last year for allegedly spitting on a religious procession.

WrittenBy:Sumedha Mittal
Illustration of TV screens airing videos of the controversy.

Five months after he was arrested for allegedly spitting on a religious procession in Ujjain, Adnan Mansoori, 18, got bail this week. 

The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Tuesday said he had no previous record and that the Ujjain police investigating officer hadn’t conducted a “test identification parade”. The court also said the complainant and the eyewitness had retracted their testimonies and “did not support the case of the prosecution”.

But as Adnan walked out of jail this week, he returned to a life turned upside-down. His younger brother and a friend had got bail in the same case last year. 

But the Mansooris’ home and shop was demolished two days after their arrest after right-wing activists demanded the government do so. The family was served a demolition notice just an hour before. Corporation officials had also brought in DJ and drummers at the site, who played Kailash Kher’s popular song Govinda Govinda from the movie Sarkar as the bulldozer razed their house and shop. 

As a result, the family now lives in rented accommodation, according to Adnan’s lawyer Devender Sengar. Adnan’s father sells confectioneries from a cart to make ends meet. 

Meanwhile, the other minor boy, a student of Class 9, dropped out of school. His father Mohammad Saleem said the “wild allegations” on news channels had resulted in “sleepless nights” for the family and made them “anxious”. The student’s school then refused to let him continue in the current academic session.  

Details of the case, and backtracking 

In July last year, a local athlete named Sawan Lot had filed a complaint against three “unknown boys”, alleging that his religious sentiments were hurt as they gurgled and spit on the Baba Mahakal religious procession.

Lot and Ajay Khatri, a local BJP leader and eyewitness in the case, have now turned hostile to the case. Even during the examination before the trial court, the complainant denied the allegations mentioned in the FIR.

However, Lot told Newslaundry that he had retracted under his family’s pressure as his father had allegedly been getting “death threats”. He said his father had suffered a cardiac arrest because of the stress and thus, he would submit his original statement again, accusing the three teenagers of spitting on the procession.   

Notably, Lot has not filed any complaint against the death threats. Meanwhile, his deposing in favour of the Muslim teenagers has also not gone down well with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal’s Madhya Pradesh unit. “I want to file an FIR against the death threats. But I am looking for some support from the government,” he said.

The right-wing activists are now accusing Lot of being “unfaithful” to their god. Officials of VHP’s Madhya Pradesh unit said the bail granted to the three Muslim boys was “poor handling” of the case by the BJP. 

One of the VHP leaders, Vinod Sharma, said, “We don’t know why Lot took a u-turn. But the eyewitness Ajay Khatri holds a special position in BJP Indore. I don't understand why he turned hostile.” 

He said as the BJP had got “involved” in the matter, the VHP and Bajrang Dal had taken a back seat. “Soon, we will be holding a meeting to figure out how we can take this forward.”

Importantly, it wasn’t just right-wing groups that ran wild with the story. The “Ujjain thook kand” or “Ujjain spitting scandal” was top billing on primetime shows last July after the three teens were arrested. At least seven national and local news channels – India Today, Aaj Tak, News18 India, Zee News, News18 Rajasthan and News24 MP and Chhattisgarh – ran shows applauding the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s government for the bulldozer action against the “culprits”. 

Court errors and return home 

The two 15-year-olds had spent three months in the juvenile detention centre as their bail plea was rejected by the Juvenile Justice Board and the sessions court in July last year. The court had said their release could bring them into “association with any known criminal” and it would “defeat the ends of justice”. 

On granting them bail in September last year, the Madhya Pradesh HC called the lower court’s order “not sustainable in law”. It said the court had “erred,” committed “illegality” and “jurisdictional error” in rejecting the bail pleas. 

The incident and the detention at the observation home “deeply affected” his son, said Saleem. “Because the false claims about my son went viral, everyone believed them. In our neighbourhood people started pointing to us that we had not raised him well. ”

Saleem, who runs a furniture shop, said his family has been suffering a lot, but the “biggest setback” was for the minor, as his school refused to accept him after the bail out. “He was in Class 9. But the school said they would not take him back as he would not be able to cope up with the academics. Who knows if it is the real reason.” 

He added: “My son will have to repeat Class 9 in the next academic session. And because he can not attend school like his friends, it is embarrassing for him.”

The father said his son’s behaviour had drastically changed since he returned from the juvenile home. “He is always in fear and stress. He has stopped enjoying studies and doesn’t go out to play with his friends like earlier.” 

Saleem said the minor is “still shocked” and has not been able to cope up with the fact that he was detained “for standing at his terrace and watching a religious procession pass by. Is that also a crime these days?”

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