THE morning newspaper of March 17 had left Mohammad Enamul Haq, 55, perturbed. The report said the Bermo police station, 15 km from Bokaro city in Jharkhand, had registered an FIR against his 20-year-old son Adil Akhtar for sharing and reacting to a Facebook post that allegedly denigrated Goddess Durga.
As Haq, or Karu Mistry as he is known in Jaridih Bazar locality of Bokaro district, would soon find out, Adil had shared a post by one of his Facebook friends — an acquaintance and a distant relative — commented on it and deleted it when someone reacted angrily to his comment. But was it grave enough to land Adil, his Facebook friend and many others in jail, set a town on fire and sharpen suspicions between two communities? Karu says he keeps asking himself these questions and finds no answers.
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Adil and his Facebook friend, a minor, are under arrest for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, a non-bailable and non-compoundable offence, besides being charged under the Information Technology Act. Police have also arrested at least 22 others from Bermo for rioting and arson. Some of the accused are still absconding.
On March 15, the Bermo police station registered a written complaint against Adil and the minor for sharing and commenting on the post. It’s still not clear who first posted the message. Police called the minor’s family, who lives in a locality in Bermo, and asked the boy to appear before them. Police say that on March 16, when the boy was on his way to the station, a mob allegedly waylaid him and detained him at the Kargili Community Centre in Bermo. Police, however, reached the community centre before the mob could attack the minor, rescued him and took him in custody.
The mob, angry that the police hadn’t handed over the boy to them, resorted to stone-pelting and arson in Kargili Bazar and Bermo-Phusro area near Bermo town, set shops and vehicles on fire and even attacked the Bermo police station.
At his home in Jaridih Bazar, nearly 7 km from Bermo town, Adil’s father Karu says he had heard of the tension in town but had no idea that his son was involved.
“I saw Adil’s name in the paper and was shocked. He was away in our ancestral village Sherghati (in Bihar’s Gaya district), attending a wedding in the family. I went to the police and they asked me to get Adil to come home and join the investigation,” says Karu, who has a small business of recharging car batteries.
Karu says he called Adil and asked him to come to a place near Tenughat Jail, nearly 40 km from home, “since Bermo and surrounding areas were tense”. “I informed the police that Adil would be coming there and they arrested him,” he says.
Karu says he first came to Jaridih Bazar in 1993 and over time, got all his five children — two daughters and three sons — enrolled in government schools and built a home with the pension his father, a government school teacher, got. His eldest son, Arzu, 18, died of cancer. “I lost him in April last year. And now my second son is caught up in this,” says Karu, brushing away tears.
Karu says his “six-foot-tall” Adil was keen on joining the police and practised hard by running long distances every day. “Last year, he had gone to Ranchi to take a CISF test for constables. He missed it by about five marks. A couple of months ago, he went to Bokaro and appeared for the Jharkhand Police’s recruitment examination. I don’t know what happened to that.”
A couple of days ago, when Karu met Adil in jail, the son was worried about this. “He is concerned whether he will still qualify for a government job,” says Karu, who has paid a lawyer Rs 100 to file the bail petition.
Karu’s wife Ishrat Jahan, a second-time ward member of Jaridih Bazar, says, “Had we the slightest idea of what my son had done, I would have personally taken my boy to anywhere people wanted and asked for forgiveness. He was only doing what all boys do on the phone — he had no intention of hurting anyone.”
Karu chips in: “They could have made him do sit-ups, slapped him a couple of times, but they could have forgiven Adil. I have asked Adil several times why he did this and he keeps saying he didn’t know it could have led to such a huge issue. Nobody should be allowed to hurt religious sentiments, but what Adil did was certainly not intentional.”
At Dhori, close to Kargili Bazar, where the arson of March 16 happened, the house of the minor is locked. The boy’s parents and siblings left the house a few days after the boy was arrested. “They left last Friday. Nobody knows where they are,” says an autorickshaw driver in the area.
Neighbours say that the boy’s father did jhaad-phoonk (exorcism) and got into fights with everyone. “But the boy was quiet, like any other child,” says Geeta Devi, a neighbour.
A few houses away, Mohammad Kamruddin, who taught the boy Urdu at the oldest mosque in Bermo, says, “I have taught him since childhood. He was a religious boy, read namaz five times a day.”
Mosque committee head Pervez Akhtar says over phone, “The incident is beginning to affect our relationship with people from the other community. This has happened for the first time in Bermo. We did not want to be seen helping the boy’s family simply because he is from our religion.” He vouches for the boy though. “He was a normal child. I am sure he did not know what he was doing on the phone,” he says.
At Ram Ratan High School, where the boy recently sat for his Class X exams, office assistant Sanath Kumar Singh says he has been the boy’s “Facebook friend” for the last two years. “He was average in studies, but his classmates and teachers were fond of him. He even participated in the Saraswati Pooja celebrations,” he says, before launching into an emotional defence of the boy.
“Even if you agree that he committed a mistake, was it so big that they treat him like a big criminal? They could have just warned him and alerted his family. He is not a serial offender, after all.”