We are Muslims, but also Indians, say 15 men held for sedition after Pak win
A day after the 15 young men were freed, HT travelled to Burhanpur village in Madhya Pradesh to meet them. Their arrest, for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory over India in the Champion’s Trophy, had triggered nationwide outrage.india Updated: Jun 30, 2017 07:45 IST
Their ordeal is over, but not the nightmare. Having spent 10-odd days in jail for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory over India in the Champions Trophy, Anees Babu Mansoori shudders at what he had to endure in prison.
“We were made to clean toilets and drains in the Khandwa jail and were called traitors by the jail inmates. When we entered the jail, nearly a dozen senior jail inmates slapped each one of us and abused us,” recollected Mansoori, a tailor by profession.
Mansoori was among 15 locals of Burhanpur – some 350km from Bhopal – who were picked up by the police and charged with sedition hours after India lost to Pakistan in a one-sided game on June 18. The police claimed the Muslim men had burst crackers and then shouted pro-Pakistan slogans after the match.
“We did not,” protests Mansoori, standing up to show bruises on his leg due to alleged beating by the police. “We are Muslims, but also Indians,” the 25-year-old insisted.
Villagers agree, saying the police cases were trumped up. They say a few crackers were burst that night but none is sure who was behind them. No one is also sure why the crackers went off, or to celebrate what.
The arrests and sedition charges against the 15 men triggered nationwide outrage, prompting the police to drop the charge a week later. But for the men, granted bail by the court on June 27 and let out of the jail the next day, the scars still remain.
The worst treatment was reportedly meted out to Sarfaraz Khan, a farmer whose first name sounded similar to that of Pakistan’s cricket captain Sarfraz Ahmed. “They had fun with me as for them, I was the captain. I was beaten up mercilessly by the police. In jail the inmates did the same,” he told HT.
He and the other men alleged that the inmates were particularly hostile to them since they faced sedition charges. They were forced to clean toilets and drains. Refusal to do so invited more beatings.
Idbar Gulzar Tadvi, 24, says the incarceration is going to hurt him for a long time. The cotton crop he was growing has wilted while he was behind bars. “Most of us work in the fields as farmers or labourers. We have the most to lose,” he said.
Even Mansoori forsees a bleak future. “I am a Bachelor in Education and I had applied for a job in the forest department. I was about to apply for a job with the police as well. Now with such charges, who will give me a job,” he asked.
As the men stare at an uncertain future, they also speculate over the reasons why the police picked them up and branded them anti-nationals.
The police had used a complaint by one Subhash Laxman Koli to book the men. But Koli has since retracted his statement in court and emerged as the hero of the village. According to him, the police slapped him and forced him to sign some papers. “It is only the next day I realised that I was made the complainant when I read my name in the local papers,” Koli said. “Police tried to intimidate me, but I told the truth in the court statement. If something happens to me, police will be responsible.”
Though forced to drop the more serious sedition charge, RRS Parihat, the superintendent of police for Burhanpur, denied any wrongdoing. “Before the magistrate, each one them have stated that they were not beaten. We are investigating the matter and as fresh facts come out, we will accordingly take action against whosoever is guilty,” he told HT.
As the findings are awaited, villagers including Sarfaraz’s father Rashid Khan, suspect a conspiracy to sow communal discord in the village. “During the communal riots of 1992 and 2008 in Burhanpur, our village remained untouched. What changed this time needs to be investigated,” he said.