WERE THE firecrackers that were lit in Hosakote village of Karnataka’s Kodagu district on June 18 meant to celebrate Pakistan’s victory over India in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy in London, or India’s victory over Pakistan in the Hockey World League in the same city the same day?
This is the question that police in Suntikoppa region of Kodagu, 270 km from Bengaluru, face after jailing four Muslim youths from Hosakote on charges of outraging religious feelings and sedition on the basis of a complaint by a local BJP leader.
The events of the night of June 18, which led to the arrest of Riyaz Mustafa, 21, and his friends K L Muneer, 25, Jaheed, 30, and Abdul Samad, 32, have shattered the fragile peace of the village in a district where communal passions run high and Hindutva forces are dominant politically.
The parents of the arrested youths, including Hosakote gram panchayat vice president K M Musthafa, have claimed that the firecrackers were set off to celebrate India’s hockey victory over Pakistan. But police have registered a case under IPC section 295A for outraging religious feelings and arrested the youths on June 19 on the basis of a complaint filed by BJP leader D B Changappa, who claimed to have seen them set off crackers.
Based on assertions by the BJP leader and others in the village that the youths were shouting pro-Pakistan slogans while lighting the crackers, police added the sedition section, IPC 124A, to the complaint on June 21.
Musthafa, father of Riyaz, claimed that the complaint was “politically motivated” and an “act of vengeance” since he had cracked down on a factory run by the BJP leader recently.
“There has been some misunderstanding. Our children were not celebrating Pakistan’s victory against India in the cricket match. They told me they were celebrating India’s win over Pakistan in hockey, which happened at the same time,” Musthafa said. His claim was echoed by Lathif Khan, a local trader and father of another arrested youth Muneer.
Musthafa also said that his son was not at the spot that night. “My son had gone to neighbouring Kushalanagar town to drop my sister and came to home at 10.30 pm. He went to the spot after he got a call from his friends. He stayed at the masjid that night since it is Ramzan. But my son was named as accused no. 1. This shows he has been framed due to political rivalry,” Musthafa alleged.
Musthafa said Changappa was his opponent in several local elections. “As vice president of the gram panchayat, I told the Panchayat Development Officer to issue notices to him for dust pollution from his brick factory. He fixed my son and others in the case to get back at me,” Mustafa alleged.
Changappa, however, claimed that he filed the complaint to “teach the youths what would happen if someone disrespects India”. “I don’t have any personal rivalry against them. I was watching TV and my wife informed me that somebody was lighting firecrackers at the village circle, which can be seen from the terrace of my house. I rushed to the terrace and heard the sound of firecrackers. I shouted at them to stop and they left the place in their vehicles,” Changappa claimed.
“I didn’t know who they were but I learnt their identities when I made enquiries. I called police and informed them of the incident,’’ he said. The BJP leader also claimed that there were “no problems” with his brick unit and that he obtained all “necessary permission 10 years ago’’.
When contacted, Kodagu SP P Rajendra Prasad said, “When the youths were first arrested, they did not state they were celebrating the hockey victory and not the cricket loss. We are investigating the case in a fair manner.”