100 Days And Counting: The Unjust Incarceration Of A Muslim Bangle-Seller In India

100 Days And Counting: The Unjust Incarceration Of A Muslim Bangle-Seller In India

DECEMBER 5, 2021

By Akhlad Khan for Hindutva Watch

New Delhi, India: Tasleem Ali,  a resident of Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh is the oldest son in his family. Before he came to Indore in August, 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 (travellers’ lodge) in Ranipura.

On August 22 2021, Tasleem was assaulted by a Hindu mob in Banganga’s Govind Nagar area in Indore of Madhya Pradesh state, purportedly for his Muslim identity. A video of the assault went viral on social media. 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 different turn.

Social media commentary claimed Tasleem was practicing “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 Hindu extremists 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 been incarcerated since then.

Tasleem’s uncle Mohar Ali who was there with him in Indore told Newslaundry: “We go to different corners of the country to sell bangles before festivals. 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.”

“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,” Mohar continued.

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 that 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 Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a militant Hindutva group.

Soon after, however, local social workers and members of parties like the Congress and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) 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.

The FIR in Tasleem’s assault was finally 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 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.

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 other 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.”

Ashutosh Bagri, the superintendent of police, Indore city, told ThePrint, “Tasleem (Ali) is not a history-sheeter. There are no criminal cases against him in the past. He wasn’t carrying any weapon with him and the girl never made any such claim of her being threatened with a knife to us.”

Rajendra Soni, the police officer in charge of Banganga police station, told Newslaundry over a call that 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.

BJP Minister Intervention And Controversy Over Tasleem’s Aadhar Card

On August 23, a day after the assault, Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra told reporters 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.”

Unprecedented Delay And Consecutive Adjournments In The Case – Tasleem Suffers Incarceration.

It’s been over 100 days and around seven court dates since Tasleem Ali, a bangle-seller from Uttar Pradesh, was arrested on charges of child molestation after he was thrashed by a mob in Indore’s Banganga area — allegedly over his religion. While those accused of beating him up have been awarded bail, Ali hasn’t even got a proper bail hearing in the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

A state district court rejected Ali’s bail petition on September 1, after which it reached the MP High Court, where six hearings later, it’s yet to be heard.

On the latest date on November 29, 2021, the matter listed before the new bench of High Court Judge, couldn’t proceed as the chargesheet was not on record. The matter was adjourned.

On the hearing on November 9, the matter wasn’t heard, following which the Madhya Pradesh HC judge recused himself from the case.

On the previous four dates — between October 4 and 28 — the matter was adjourned over procedural delays, including the absence of the case diary.

A case diary is one maintained by police officers while investigating a case that contains details of how the inquiry was carried out and other particulars such as the date on which the investigation began, places visited as a part of the investigation, among others. The case diary is a means to assist the court in the inquiry or trial of a case. It is, however, inadmissible as evidence.

ThePrint reported that the public prosecution and the Madhya Pradesh Police blamed the delay on each other. While the prosecution told the court that the case diary was not available on the dates of hearing, which were the reason for adjournment on two dates, the MP Police said that the delay has not been from their end and the documents were made available as and when asked for.

Incidentally, the case diary that was not available on two dates of Tasleem’s bail hearing in the high court, was available during the hearing in the district court.

Ali’s counsel Advocate Ehtesham Hashmi said the allegations against his client are fabricated, adding that he is being denied bail for “unknown reasons”. He said there is no evidence against Ali and if his assaulters can be given bail, so should he.

Meanwhile, Ali’s family, which is running from pillar to post to secure his bail, questioned if they are facing punishment for “being Muslims”.

A chargesheet was filed against Ali on October 22 under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as well as Indian Penal Code sections related to outraging the modesty of a woman, forgery, and criminal intimidation, among others. POCSO is a non-bailable offence, in which bail is not a right. It is the prerogative of the judge who has heard the facts of the case in a hearing to either reject or grant bail.

The first date on 4 October saw the prosecutor seek an adjournment, which was granted. Four days later, the case was adjourned again as the prosecution said that the case diary was not available.

The third date on  October 25 saw the public prosecutor inform the court that the counter-case diary was not available this time.

On  October 28 (the fourth date), the bench couldn’t hear the matter. On November 9, the matter was postponed after the judge recused himself from the case.

Asked about these delays, Additional Advocate General Pushyamitra Bhargav denied any delay from the prosecution.

“Most certainly there has been no delay from our side. We have informed the police and they did not give the case diary on time. Whenever we get the intimation of listing from the court, we send a copy of that to the police,” he said.

“They are the custodians of the case diary and this is normal because acquiring a case diary from the police is a tedious process but we always intimate them as per the process before hearings, we don’t know what was the reason for the case diary not being available on the given dates.”

The Madhya Pradesh police have, however, denied this. “There has been no delay from the police’s side. We will not give case diaries on our own. As and when asked for it, we made it available to the prosecutor,” said Ashutosh Bagri, Superintendent of Police, Indore (east).

IG Indore Harinarayan Chari Mishra told ThePrint, “There’s no scope of a delay from the police’s side. If we gave the case diary in the sessions court, we would have had no problem giving it in high court also. But I have to check with the government counsel to know who caused the delay.”

However, of the four men accused of assaulting Ali, Rakesh Pawar was granted bail in the first hearing on September 23 by the MP High Court, after the district court rejected his bail. The order was on the basis that the trial is likely to take a “considerable” amount of time.

Three days later, the other accused — Vivek Vyas, Rajkumar Bhatnagar, and Vikas Malviya — were also granted bail by the district court on a single bail plea, on the grounds of their counsel’s plea that one of the accused secured bail from the high court and the probe is completed and most of the offenses are bailable, and there is no need to keep them in custody.

The bail order contained the defense plea that the accused belong to “decent families and keeping them in custody will affect their mental well-being”.

Tasleem Ali’s counsel Ehtesham Hashmi said, according to the law, “bail is a right” and there is no evidence in the case.

“There should have been one single piece of evidence to what the (minor) girl is saying. But on the other hand, we have evidence that Tasleem did not molest or harass anyone, but got assaulted in full public view for his religion. POCSO charges were framed against him later with a motive to punish him when he filed the FIR,” said Hashmi.

“And even if we go according to the girl’s FIR, Tasleem touched her hands and cheeks, not any private part. But my client was beaten up, looted, and hurled with communal slurs openly. If his culprits can get bail, so should he,” the lawyer said.

He added that he has faith in the judiciary but “something is cooking that is stopping the bail for reasons unknown to me”. He said there is “no logical reason” to keep a person inside the jail when there is no “strong evidence” against him.

“Getting a case diary is a matter of hours, but they were not available on two dates of hearing which delayed the chances of getting bail by weeks. State advocates and police work in tandem, still such unnecessary and shoddy delays took place. These are tactics to delay the bail,” Hashmi added while talking to ThePrint.

Ali’s wife and five children, the youngest of whom is two years old, are struggling to get food on the table at their house in Brij Mou village in UP’s Hardoi district after the only earning member of their family was sent to prison.

Ali’s parents and younger brother Salman, who stay in a nearby village, have been staying with his wife and children ever since the incident. Meanwhile, his elder brother Jamal is making rounds of the courts to secure bail.

The trial has not yet been initiated, the inhumane brunt of which is being faced by Tasleem. This indefinite incarceration at the pre-trial stage, when no other investigation is required to be done, directly infringes upon the personal liberty of the person. In stark contravention to such a clear position of the laid down law, Tasleem has been languishing behind bars for the past 100 Days despite the non-commencement of trial.

These facts are pertinent to be brought to knowledge merely to refresh the often forgetful minds of the era and the undeclared dictatorial regime that we live in, where the ideological thugs of the mighty get away with assaulting people on the basis of their religious identities.

(With inputs from ThePrint and Newslaundry inputs)

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