“It was just a WhatsApp forward. He might have made a mistake by sharing it but he shouldn’t have been arrested. And there was certainly nothing communal about it,” said Shehzad, elder brother of Aijaj Khatri, one of the two men arrested in Sardhana town in UP’s Meerut district for allegedly sharing a message that mocked local BJP MLA Sangeet Som.
Aijaj (35), a labourer, and Mohammed Anas (25), a medical student, were arrested after an FIR was filed against them by a local BJP leader on August 25, citing threat to national security and peace of the town. Both are still in police custody.
Police said the message accuses Som of inaction in the wake of six men setting a 14-year-old girl on fire on August 17 — the girl has been battling for her life.
The message read, “Gumshuda ki talaash. Sangeet Som, vidhayak Sardhana, Meerut. 15-08-2018 se lapata hai. Tum laut aao aur bharat mein raho. Sardhana ke case mein aapko koi kuch nahi kahega. Aap kyun tension le rahe ho vidhayak ji? Wo aapki beti nahi thi. Aapko sirf vote hi chahiye. Tum samaaj ke liye kalank ho. Pahuchane walo ko 101 ka inaam milega. Na koi tumhara seena naapega. (Search for missing. Sangeet Som, MLA Sardhana Meerut. Missing since 15-08-2018. Return here and stay in India. No one will say anything to you regardign the Sardhana case. Why are you taking tension? She was not your daughter. You only want votes. You are a stain to society. The person who returns you receive a reward of Rs. 101. No one will measure your chest.)”
“Aijaj’s father, elder brother, sister-in-law and I had gone to Som’s residence the day the complaint was filed to apologise on his behalf,” said Aijaj’s wife Ayesha. “He told us to get out and threatened to break Aijaj’s limbs.”
Anas’ relatives, too, said they went to Som’s residence, but left without meeting him after they spoke to Aijaj’s relatives, who were on their way out. Som was not available for comment.
The complaint filed by BJP’s Sardhana city head Vinod Jain accuses Aijaj and Anas of sharing messages on a “vyapar mandal” WhatsApp group that insulted Som, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and “some messages inflaming religious sentiments”. The complaint also alleges that the accused shared messages related to jihad, which “poses a grave threat to the security of the country” and adds that “40-50 other unidentified people also continuously inflame community sentiments on behalf of the accused”. “Hindu sentiments were being wounded… I filed the complaint out of concern for the peace of Sardhana,” said Jain. “Mostly it was because of their messages insulting Som ji.”
The charges levelled against the two relate to sharing obscene material through an electronic medium under the IT Act and to malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings. One of the charges registered against them is under Section 295 of the IPC which relates to defiling or injuring a place of worship or sacred object with the intention of hurting religious sentiments.
However, the complainant or the police did not share with The Indian Express the purported messages of a communal nature.
“The worst part is that these boys had just forwarded a message. If they must take action against it, why don’t they go after the person who wrote it,” said Shahid, Anas’ uncle.
Aijaj’s family also alleged that he had fled when police began looking for him on August 25 and police held his brother Shehzad and two teen nephews in the police station for two nights till the family found Anas and handed him over. Police deny this and say Anas was arrested on August 25.
The investigating officer said a forensic probe is underway to find whether the accused shared the message in other WhatsApp groups and social media platforms.