The Trombay police said Monday it was Shahnawaz Shaikh, the recently elected All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) corporator, who led the mob that vandalised the Trombay police station and set a police jeep on fire on the intervening night of March 18 and 19.
The police had arrested 17 persons, including the Ward 145 corporator, following the rioting at the police station.
The incident occurred after the Trombay police arrested one Arvind Chinwa (20), a cleaner employed with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, for allegedly posted a morphed photograph on Facebook that “hurt religious sentiments”.
He was booked under Section 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the Indian Penal Code, read with relevant sections of the IT Act.
Seven more people were arrested Monday evening in connection with the case and booked for attempt to murder, rioting and assault, bringing the total number of those arrested to 24.
“We arrested Chinwa around 11.30 pm Saturday after receiving the complaint. By midnight, a mob of around 150 people had gathered at the police station and AIMIM corporator Shahnawaz Shah was leading them. The mob first went to the residence of the accused to get hold of him but we had already arrested him by then. Then they came to the police station,” said an officer at Trombay police station.
According to the officer, the mob had demanded that the police hand over Chinwa to them. “They said either hang the accused for his actions or hand him over to them. They soon started rioting and assaulting police personnel with stones, paver blocks and beer bottles,” the officer added. The mob had even brought crude incendiary objects, mainly cloth dipped in petrol. They torched a police jeep parked outside the station.
Police retaliated with tear gas and a lathicharge and even fired a few rounds of plastic bullets.
With the help of further reinforcements and riot control police, the situation was brought under control within an hour. Fifteen police personnel were injured in the incident. According to the Trombay police, it was Shaikh’s driver who had lodged the complaint against Chinwa’s Facebook post around 10 pm.
“The accused had even called Shaikh and apologised about the inappropriate post before he was arrested,” the officer added.
The AIMIM corporator also has a prior criminal record of rioting and assault cases in 2004, 2007 and 2014. “The corporator has two cases of rioting and two cases of assault against him in the past. We are further investigating his role in the incident,” said Annasaheb Sonur, senior inspector at the Trombay police station. According to him, the arrested persons are being questioned and further arrests are expected.
The AIMIM, however, came out in support of Shaikh saying he was not involved in the incident. “Police picked him up from his residence and he was not involved in the mob incident at the station. We will provide legal support in the matter to him. He is being falsely implicated and there is a political angle to this. What happened was deplorable, but the police should have handled the matter in a better way,” said party MLA Waris Pathan.
Meanwhile, there is tension in the Cheetah Camp area in Trombay. Additional police personnel, police vans and armoured police car were deployed in the area, especially at the police station and in Sector D locality, near Chinwa’s residence, to prevent escalation of violence. Chinwa’s family and neighbours are in shock as none of them expected tensions to rise in this way.
“When I heard that Arvind had been arrested, I collapsed and passed out. I was not at home that night. Someone called me told me about the entire incident. I haven’t seen my son for three days and I don’t know what is happening. The police are also not letting me see him,” said Valli, Chinwa’s mother. His two sisters, who live in different areas with their families, are with their mother now.
There is anger against Chinwa in Sector D. “There was a curfew-like situation after Saturday night in the locality. A crowd of people had gathered at his house to catch him, but by then he was arrested. Had they caught him, he would have been dead. I don’t understand why Arvind did something like that. He has not done something like this before,” said Javed, who runs a shop in the locality.
Locals also alleged that the Trombay police picked up many Muslim youths from the area after the incident. Some of the families had gathered at the Trombay police station demanding the release of their kin. One of them, Mohammad Hussain, who runs a catering service, said his 17-year-old son, Mohammad Danish, was picked up by the police Sunday night.
“He was just a bystander. Hundreds of people from the surrounding localities had gathered at the station. He was just one of them. This matter is from Sector D and we are residents of Sector B. We are not even involved,” Hussain said.