Was the first fire cracker burst after Virat Kohli’s dismissal? Or was it after Hardik Pandya got run out? No one in Mohad, a village in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur district, is quite sure when the “celebrations”, triggered allegedly by Pakistan’s victory over India in the finals of the Champions Trophy on Sunday, began, an act that led to the slapping of sedition charges — now dropped — against 15 men from the village. No one heard the fire crackers either, or even the pro-Pakistan or anti-India slogans. Not even Subhash Laxman Koli, the complainant.
“I didn’t inform the police,” says Koli. “I went to the police station on Sunday night to help a neighbour who had been taken away for shouting slogans. I did not hear any slogans, though. I didn’t complain about fire crackers either. The police simply made me a witness when I went to the police station on Monday. I am ready to depose, but only in court, in front of a judge; I am scared the police will target me,” says Koli, who is in his mid-20s and repairs dish antennae in the village.
For this Muslim-dominated village which used to regularly send a team — named ‘Target’ and with players chosen from both communities — to participate in tennis-ball tournaments in nearby villages, the sedition charge has resulted in relationships getting frayed. Though the sedition charges have been dropped, the 15 accused continue to be in jail – police have now charged them under Section 153 A of the IPC for “disturbing communal harmony”. “It’s difficult to prove the sedition charge. Moreover, none of them has a criminal background. After initial investigation, we found that Section 153A is more appropriate that Section 124A (sedition),’’ Burhanpur SP RR S Parihar told The Indian Express.
Mohad has a population of 5,200, many of them Muslims with the surname Tadvi. The Tadvis, STs in neighbouring Maharashtra but OBCs in Madhya Pradesh, are said to be Bhils who converted to Islam long ago, with many of their customs similar to those of Hindus. So while Hindus and Muslims live in separate localities, villagers say they took part in each other’s festivals.
“Bahut badi darar padegi,’’ asserts Aizaz Ahmed Rahi, an assistant teacher for 20 years at the Urdu primary school, where no student has turned up since Monday because Muslims have either left the village fearing police raids or are too scared to send their children to school.
Located close to the border with Maharashtra, several residents speak Marathi in this village that even has a Marathi-medium middle school. “I don’t recollect any communal incidents in the past. It’s difficult to understand what went wrong this time,’’ says Prabhakar Mahajan, a senior teacher in the Marathi-medium school.
Yet, scratch the surface and there are signs of simmering tension between the two communities. “This tension has always been there but it was fine until now because Muslims did not assert themselves. Though they are in a majority here, they are mostly poor and work on the farms of Hindus. Over the last few years, a lot of outsiders have come to the village – either as teachers in madrasas or got married to girls here – and the equation has changed,’’ says Dr Pramod Patil, a non-allopathic medical practitioner.
So though no one admits to having seen or heard the “celebrations”, many of them are convinced the fire crackers went off. “When Hardik was hitting sixes, why didn’t they come out and celebrate? When you live in Hindustan, you must praise Hindustan. Those who burst crackers after Hardik’s wicket are anti-nationals. The police did nothing wrong in going after them,’’ says Kundan Uttam Rajput, 49. He admits he didn’t hear the fire crackers but “heard of the incident from others”.
“Yahanki kha raho hai wahan ke gun ga rahe ho (You live off this place and praise them)? Why can’t you take pride in being an Indian? The government gives you so many subsidies,’’ says Kundan, a farmer whose son is among the dozen-odd RSS activists in the village.
In the Muslim part of the village, the families of those behind bars say they are least interested in cricket and are only worried about how this new tension with the Hindus would affect their livelihood. The road to the village is lined with banana plantations owned by the Hindus and where the Muslims work.
Except for two of the 15 accused, all the others are all illiterate, some earning less than Rs 200 a day. A few don’t even own television sets or mobiles phones that would have helped them keep track of cricket matches.
Villagers allege that for the first three days after the Sunday match, policemen randomly picked up anyone who ran away from them.
Shahadat, mother of 25-year-old Anis Babu Pinjara, a Class 12 graduate with additional diplomas in elementary education and computer applications, says, “He was seated by his sewing machine and cutting cloth when police took him away, saying he was named in the complaint. I ran after them, asking them what he had done, but they did not answer.’’
“The policemen held me by throat when I asked them why they were taking my son away at 2 am. Some of them beat up my son near Hanuman temple,’’ says Rashid Imam Tadvi, whose son Mahmood, 25, was among those arrested. The 25-year-old worked at a farm owned by a Hindu.
Musharraf Tadvi’s son, who has just cleared his Class 12, was also arrested. “He was with me. The police did not ask questions, simply bundled him into their jeep,’’ says Tadvi, a clerk at the local cooperative society.
Hanifa Shaikh, a mother of three, says her husband Shaikh Mukaddar, a daily wager, was picked up at 1 am. “I begged them not to beat up my husband but they were unmoved. I don’t know if he had any enemies in village because he was always at work,’’ she says, adding that she tried to meet her husband at the Burhanpur court but did not succeed because a crowd that had gathered there turned against them. “They called us anti-nationals and made fun of us. I had to walk back three kilometers because they did not let us get into any vehicle.’’
Irshad says her teenager son had just finished dinner when police took him in custody. “They did not let us meet him in court. If police say some have confessed to the crime, why did they not name them? Why did they arrest innocents like my son,’’ she says of her son, a school dropout .
Shakeena Khudabaksh’s 25-year-old son, Imam, never attended school. The family’s one-acre land isn’t enough to support them and so, Imam works as a daily wager. “He was so scared when he saw the police that he picked up his children and ran, only to drop his toddler daughter,’’ she says, pointing to bruises on her granddaughter’s face.
Fundabi’s 30-year-old son Irfan, a Class 8 dropout, ran a grocery shop in the village. She says the police took him away from his shop when he came out to see the commotion. “Police behaved as if there were communal riots and my son was an accused,’’ she says.
Sharif Hasan Tadvi, 30, is illiterate and earns Rs 150 a day working as a daily wager at Shahpur, about 15 km away. His wife Sharifa, 25, too works as a daily wager. “Police arrested him because he ran to save his children. They picked him up, saying, ‘why are you running’,’’ she says, sitting outside her modest home.
Ramiza says her elder brother Salman Turab Tadvi, in his 20s, was defecating in the open when police caught up with him. “They asked him to clean up and thrashed him immediately after,’’ she alleges.
Town Inspector Sanjay Pathak of Shahpur police station, denied the allegations. On Wednesday, he had held a meeting with the villagers on Wednesday and told them that they need not worry if they hadn’t “done anything wrong”.