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Five months ago, Shaqib, 19, went without food for about six days, demanding that his parents buy him a smartphone. He is now in jail in Hisar, Haryana, 270 km from his home in Khera Mewat village in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, for allegedly sharing on WhatsApp a morphed photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Shaqib was picked up on November 18 after Mukesh Kumar, a ‘BJP worker’ in Tohana, in Haryana’s Fatehabad district, complained about the photograph. A police team from Tohana had travelled to Shahpur-Kalyanpur village in Uttarakhand, where Shaqib worked as a tailor. He is now serving a 14-day judicial remand in Hisar jail.
“Chhe din tak ek roti bhi nahi khaaee thi usne touchphone khareedne ki zid mein (He had gone without food for six days, insisting that we buy him a touchscreen phone),” says Shaqib’s mother Jule Khan, 45.
For the residents of Khera Mewat, a village with a population of about 8,000, a smartphone is a rarity. “Most of the villagers are uneducated and work as daily wagers, hardly earning Rs 100-200 a day. How can we afford smartphones,” says Mehboob Hasan, 44, a neighbour who has dropped by to console the family. He points to Jule’s phone, an Intex set that the family bought for about Rs 1,000.
Jule says that when Shaqib stuck to his demand, four months ago, his father Salim, 47, who earns about Rs 6,000-8,000 a month working as a daily-wage labourer, borrowed money to buy Shaqib the phone he wanted for Rs 7,500. Shaqib, a Class 3 dropout, is the fourth of Salim and Jule’s five children.
“Hamne loan lekar uske liye phone khareeda. Wo bachha hai. usko kya pata phone par kya nahi karna hai (I bought him the phone on loan. He is a child… how would he know what he shouldn’t be doing on his phone,” says Salim, speaking on the phone from Hisar, where he had gone to meet his son.
He says that he when he met Shaqib in jail on Wednesday, he cried a lot. “He’s just a child and he has admitted to his crime. I am nervous. Haryana is new to me. I don’t know how I’ll get him out on bail,” says Salim.
He says this is his second visit out of home since Shaqib’s arrest. On the evening of November 18, after the family learnt about Shaqib’s arrest, they struggled to get in touch with the Tohana police officers who had arrested Shaqib. By the time Salim visited Tohana on November 20, his son had already been sent to the Hisar jail, 75 kilometres from Tohana.
In the family’s two-room house, its walls unplastered, Shaqib’s 80-year-old grandmother, Jamila is teary-eyed as she addresses the crowd of “well-wishers” with folded hands, pleading with them to “save” her grandson. She says she gave all the money she had – Rs 3,000 saved from washing dishes at homes in the village – to Salim, before he left the village to meet Shaqib in the Hisar jail.
Consoling Jule as she breaks into sobs, Shaqib’s paternal aunt Fareeda, 35, says, “He sent some photo of the prime minister on his phone and he was arrested for it? Is it such a big crime that the boy has to be put behind bars?”
“Shaqib only got a phone four-five months ago, but he’s not educated enough to use it. He wouldn’t know how to morph images and then circulate it to people. He probably received the image on his phone and simply forwarded it. Even I receive objectionable material on WhatsApp, but I don’t send anyone to jail for it,” says Hasan, the neighbour.
While Neeraj Singh, Station House Officer (SHO) of Chilkana police station under which falls Khera Mewat, says Shaqib has “no previous criminal record”, Salim fears his son will have to live with “the tag of being a criminal”.