Pleading innocence of her husband and sons, the wife of Mehmood Pathan, the shopkeeper arrested with his two sons for tonsuring, stripping and parading two boys in Ulhasnagar on Sunday, said they committed the act in good humour. “Humne toh masti-mazaak mein kiya tha. Police mein jaane ki kya zaroorat thi (It was all in fun. Why did they have to go to the police)?” said Pathan’s wife, who did not wish to be named. She said had the mothers of the boys approached them instead of the police, the matter would have been amicably resolved. “These kids often came to the store and picked up something or the other. We all live harmoniously, I don’t know why my family is being targeted,” she said.
Pathan and his sons Irfan and Tawakkal were arrested on Sunday and booked under sections of the IPC and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Senior inspector Mohan Waghmare said in addition to POCSO and IPC sections, they have added sections of the atrocities Act. The accused were remanded in police custody until Tuesday, said officers attached to the Hill Line police station.
Divided along religious lines, the slums in Prem Nagar, Ulhasnagar, were quieter than usual, a day after the video of the boys, stripped, garlanded with slippers and paraded, went viral. On Monday, there were no children playing around a massive water-storage container, where most of them are seen everyday. With increased police presence, local residents said it had become difficult to get an auto-rickshaw to their houses from the Ulhasnagar railway station.
The houses in the slums are coloured either indigo or green. A line runs right between the slums, cautiously dividing the residents . It has been this way for decades, locals say. However, tension has never run higher, according to some residents. At a time like this, each side alleged discrimination on the grounds of religion and caste.
“Our family has been targeted because of our caste. The witnesses in the case are all from the same caste as the complainants and they are making false statements about my family,” Pathan’s wife said.
The three accused had “punished” the boys for allegedly stealing a chakli costing Rs 2 from their grocery shop and feeding it to a stray dog. The shop has been closed since the incident.
The mothers of the two boys, aged eight and nine, however, said Pathan and his family had gone too far. “We have been here for more than 25 years,” said one of them. “Kids are kids, they make mistakes. We have all shoplifted, but this is inhumane. I am glad nobody’s daughter was involved, otherwise who knows what they would have done to her?” said the mother of the nine-year-old.
Both the boys are being raised by single mothers working as domestic helps. They were out at work when the incident occurred. “I had stepped out to buy groceries, when I saw the kids undressed and getting shaved,” said an eyewitness, who is a neighbour.
“I ran to call one of their mothers, but by the time we reached Pathan’s shop, the kids were already being paraded around,” the woman said. The two boys remained quiet and by the side of their mothers on Monday. Otherwise cheerful, the children shied away even from their neighbours and familiar faces. While the nine-year-old had fever, the other one kept scratching at the scab on his forehead.
“Both of them used to be very playful, but have completely changed since the event,” said the older boy’s mother. Both of them have stepped out of their 30 sq-ft room only once since they were subjected to the humiliation. Both have visible scars from the tonsuring, which, according to the police, was carried out using a blunt blade. The mothers of the boys want to see Pathan and his sons punished for their acts. “We hope they are brought to book for their crimes and this serves as a deterrent to anyone even thinking of such actions in the future,” said the nine-year-old’s mother.