Video clips that purportedly show a man flogging those arrested for pelting stones at a garba event Monday night in Gujarat’s Kheda district have triggered outrage, with the Opposition identifying the person involved as a police officer and demanding that action be taken.
The clips show at least four-five men being held, one after the other, by a group of men in plainclothes against an electricity pole at a chowk and being flogged with a lathi by one man with a holstered gun on his belt. Those flogged are then seen folding their hands before a cheering crowd before being directed by the men in plainclothes to get into a police van nearby.
When contacted, Indravadan Patel, sarpanch of Undhela village in Matar taluka, where the stone-pelting took place, told The Indian Express: “The police arrested ten of the 43 accused (for the clashes at the garba), brought them to the spot where the garba was held and punished them.”
While the identities of those who were flogged are yet to be ascertained, the police confirmed that all the ten who were arrested for allegedly disrupting the garba the previous night were from the Muslim community.
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Patel said he had organised the garba and claimed to have sustained head injuries in the clashes.
IGP (Ahmedabad Range), V Chandrashekhar, said: “We are yet to ascertain the genuineness of the video.” Kheda district SP Rajesh Gadhia said he “would look into the alleged video”.
Asked about Monday night’s incident, Nadiad DSP V R Bajpayee, who reached the spot, said: “A mob belonging to the Muslim community tried to halt the garba celebration at the temple… It was followed by stone pelting and rioting. One GRD jawan and a police personnel were also injured in the riot. A total of 43 persons have been identified and booked along with an unidentified mob of about 150 persons, which includes women.”
Referring to the video clips, Congress MLAs Imran Khedawala and Gyasuddin Sheikh said the men seen flogging the accused in the videos were police and demanded that they be “immediately suspended”.
Taking to Twitter, Khedawala and Sheikh posted similar messages: “The police pinned the accused to the electricity pole and thrashed them with sticks while the public applauded… The officials who took the law in their hands should be immediately suspended.”
Abdul Karim Malek, president of Madhya Gujarat Muslim Samaj Seva Samiti, said the stone-pelting occurred “because there was a misunderstanding that a riot had broken out as there was loud shouting and screaming at the time of the garba being played”.
“Some stones were pelted from both sides and it blew up into a big clash. While we were at the police station trying to have a cross FIR lodged, we also heard that the police had assaulted some of the arrested accused in public. We will take legal recourse if the police department does not initiate disciplinary action in this matter,” Malek said.
The garba was organised by the village sarpanch at a chowk facing the Tulja Bhavani temple, which shares a wall with a madrassa. “I had taken a pledge during the 2021 panchayat elections that I would organise the garba for one night of Ashtami at the temple. The village has a separate garba for locals every day. However, they (mob) did not want us to carry on,” Patel, the sarpanch, said.
The FIR in the case, citing Patel’s complainant, states: “When my family members and villagers from our community were playing garba near the Tulja Bhavani temple, we saw a group of Muslim men…of our village gather near the mosque located across the temple, led by two accused…”
The FIR states: “They began abusing the women playing the garba and asked them to go back home. Within minutes, a huge mob gathered and began vandalising the vehicle of the DJ and in no time, they began pelting stones at us.” It also states that one of the women at the garba was allegedly assaulted by women from the mob.
All the accused, including the unidentified mob, have been booked under various IPC sections, including 307 (attempt to murder), 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with a deadly weapon likely to cause death) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings by insulting religion or religious beliefs).
In a separate garba-related incident, a clash broke out in Surat after some persons armed with wooden sticks attacked bouncers deployed in Thakorji Wadi at VIP road late Monday. Two of the bouncers were injured and hospitalised, the police said, adding that no complaint had been registered.
One of the bouncers, who identified himself as Ahmed Khan, said they were attacked by the Bajrang Dal for working at the garba. When contacted, South Gujarat Bajrang Dal (Suraksha) president Devuprasad Dubey said, “We got information about Muslim bouncers hired by the organisers… Our team reached the spot and told them to stay away. After an argument, a fight broke out.”