The family and neighbours of Sharif Ahmed Bashir Siddiqui, 38, who live in a nondescript lower-middle class locality in Malad (East), appeared shocked over the arrest of the school teacher by the Pune police for his alleged role in fanning a xenophobia campaign over the internet, which, the police claim, forced an exodus of northeasterners from the educational capital of Maharashtra.
They said Siddiqui got the inflammatory clip from a nephew and must have uploaded it without being fully aware of the consequences.
When HT visited Basuwala society in Triveni Nagar, a pre-dominantly slum cluster nestled amid high-rises, Siddiqui’s distraught family appeared groping for answers about what they claimed was “a wrong arrest”.
Living in a one-room-kitchen house in one of the narrow lanes, Siddiqui's 29-year-old wife Afroz said that she and her three daughters – Samia, 10, Sumaila, 5, and Laiba, 3 – were still to come to terms with the reality.
Siddiqui lives with his wife, the daughters, and sister Shabnam, 24, an employee with a private bank.
His brother Shabbir Ahmed, 40, stays next door with his wife Aarifa, 39, their three children and his mother. Shabbir runs a printing workshop in the area.
“One of his nephews transferred the video clip to his phone via Bluetooth. He showed us the clip and we said that he should delete it as the content was heartbreakingly violent. We do not know when he went to the workshop and uploaded it on the internet,” said Shabnam.
“It was like just another video that people share. He did not know the repercussions of what he was doing. He does not even watch news to know that the video would have such a fall-out. He had no intention of creating anti-national feelings. Even when he was questioned, he immediately admitted that he had made a mistake,” she added.
A science graduate from a leading Vile Parle-based college, Siddiqui was teaching Maths and Computer Science at Swami Vivekananda School in Malad (East) in the mornings, and would take private tuitions later in the day.
Sohail Khatuda, 34, his neighbour, said: “The police have claimed that he was in hiding. They came on Tuesday to his house to arrest him and picked him up from the workshop nearby. The police are making wrong statements.”
Neighbours said Siddiqui is a soft-spoken and god-fearing person who would rarely raise his voice.