A 28-year-old Muslim man was beaten to death in Pune, India on Monday night (June 2) by Hindutvadi zealots with suspected links to a Hindu fundamentalist outfit over a Facebook message they found offensive, according to police. The victim - Mohsin Mohammed Sadique Shaikh - had been living in Pune since 2006 and was working as a young IT manager with Ujjwala Enterprises in Pune for the last four years.
Shaikh was bludgeoned to death after being beaten with hockey sticks near Hadapsar area on the outskirts of Pune. Shaikh's cousin Salman said that the victim and his roommate were returning home in Bankar colony on their motorcycle after picking up their dinner.
"A gang of youths blocked his way near the lane just behind his house and started hitting him with sticks. While the roommate managed to escape, they bludgeoned my cousin with stones and fled. He was lying covered in blood for about 15 minutes. His brother rushed there and took him to a nearby hospital where he died during treatment," he said.
A little before the murder, the same Hindu youths had beaten up two other Muslims (Izaz Yusuf Bagwan, 25, and Ameen Shaikh, 25) at the same spot. On Tuesday night, the police had arrested seven Hindus suspected of committing the crimes. They were remanded in police custody till June 9.
Assistant public prosecutor told the court that the custodial interrogation of the suspects was essential for recovering the hockey sticks and stones allegedly used in committing the murder.
According to police, the trigger for the attack was apparently uploading of morphed images of a late Hindu Maratha warlord Chhatrapati Shivaji and late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray - much revered by Hindutvadi forces inside India - on Facebook by unknown persons. In a riot-prone, hateful environment, which India has gotten used to since 1947 Muslims are, however, suspected, by default, of posting such images in the Facebook. As such, Shaikh, who had nothing to do with the posting, became an easy target for the murderous Hindu zealots.
As expected, the posting of the 'offensive' pictures in the Facebook has agitated the Hindutvadi extremists of the RSS and HRS (Hindu Rashtra Sena) who called a massive strike (bandh) to protest the posting.
It is worth noting here that HRS first came into focus when it carried an attack on the office of a Marathi television channel in 2007 protesting their coverage of an incident involving a Hindu minor girl who had eloped with a Muslim boy. In the past decade, its firebrand leader - the 34-year-old Dhananjay Desai - has been slapped with as many as 20 cases in various police stations in Pune. The cases were mostly against rioting and giving inflammatory speeches in which Desai has secured bail.
Soon after killing IT graduate Mohsin Shaikh members of the extremist group HRS exchanged an ominous message on their mobiles. The message said "pahili wicket padli" or the first wicket has fallen.
Scores of buses and shops owned by Muslims were damaged during the bandh called by right wing elements to protest the objectionable Facebook post. A Muslim bakery shop was also put on fire. A Hindu mob of around 25 persons came on motorbikes and started attacking members of the Muslim community at a nearby location.
While protesters in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad went on the rampage on Saturday, on Sunday, traffic was held up at the Khalapur toll plaza on the Mumbai-Pune expressway for about half-an-hour. Also, shops were shut in Nerul, Koparkhairane and Ghansoli in Navi Mumbai over rumors that a political party had called for a bandh.
Meanwhile, HRS chief Desai, who was arrested in connection with distribution of inflammatory literature on Tuesday, has denied any involvement of his organization in the violent incidents. He was later released on bail. He was again arrested on Wednesday in connection with a similar case (circulation of provocative pamphlets) by police in suburban Loni Kalbhor.
Police issued an appeal asking people not to believe or spread rumors and said Mohsin Shaikh, who stayed at Hadapsar since 2006, was not involved with any organization.
The police are still to trace the Internet Protocol address of the person (yet unidentified) who posted the material online but are not ruling out the possibility that a proxy server may have been used. Cases against unidentified persons have been filed in Mumbai, Nerul, Pune, Nashik, Yeola, Aurangabad, Satara and Sangli.
While the situation in the area has remained peaceful since Tuesday with heavy deployment of security force, city police commissioner Satish Mathur said stringent provisions of Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act (MPDA) would be invoked to book the miscreants suspected of involvement in inciting violence. Police have also applied Section 295A IPC which deals with deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.
In an attempt to contain protests over "objectionable" posts on a social networking site the Maharashtra police have decided to take action even against those who 'like' the controversial posts. Those who 'like' such posts will be booked under the Information Technology Act and under the Code of Criminal Procedure. A person could face three to five years in jail if convicted under Section 66 (a) of the IT Act (punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.), applied in this case.
If the past is any indicator to predict the future outcome, I believe that this latest witch-hunting measure by the Police is misdirected and would only victimize innocent cyber users while the criminal elements of the Hindutvadi forces go Scot-free. Already the hate crime against Shaikh has been dubbed in state government's report as an ordinary crime. Many observers believe that Maharashtra government may be under pressure not to project Shaikh's murder as a communal incident, given that it may not go down well with the minority Muslim community ahead of state polls later this year.
Surely, with the emergence of the BJP in the central stage in India, Hindutvadi forces are in the offensive and would provoke similar incidents to bring about their desired Ram Rajya minus non-Hindus. I won't be surprised to learn that they may actually have been behind the Facebook posting to stir Hindu-Muslim and even Dalit-Muslim tension. The inclusion of images of Dr. Ambedkar (a revered figure amongst the Dalits) in the Facebook surely points to the Hindutvadi connection.
Not to be overlooked in this context is the recent gang rape and murder of two Dalit girls in Katra Sadatganj village of Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh (UP), which once again underscores why India is now the least safe place on earth for females. Five accused - brothers Pappu Yadav, Awadhesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav and police constables Chhatrapal Yadav and Sarvesh Yadav - all Hindus - were arrested in connection with the gruesome rape, murder and subsequent hanging of those two teenage girls. The morphed image of Dr. Ambedkar in the Facebook may well be an attempt by Hindutvadi fascists to direct and realign Dalit anger away from fellow Hindus towards Muslims.
The state DGP A.L. Banerjee on Saturday turned the narrative so far on its head to suggest that the killings might have been triggered by property dispute and family honor. He also said only one of the two girls was raped and that both were hung after they were killed, contradicting Badaun SSP's comment last week that the girls were hanged to death. His disclosures suggest the five men - two of whom are UP police constables - arrested for the rape and murder could be innocent.
The Madhya Pradesh home minister Babulal Gaur Yadav from the ruling Narendra Modi's BJP has stirred a hornet's nest on Thursday when he described rape as a social crime, saying "sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong". Gaur also expressed sympathy with Mulayam Singh Yadav, head of the regional Samajwadi Party that runs UP. In the recent election, Mulayam criticized legal changes that foresee the death penalty for gang rape, saying: 'Boys commit mistakes: Will they be hanged for rape?' Amid a nationwide outrage over rising incidents of rape and insensitive comments by political leaders, Chhattisgarh's home minister Ram Sevak Paikra has come with his own bizarre interpretation of a rapist's act claiming sexual assaults are not "deliberate".
The father and uncle of one of the Badaun victims said they tried to report the crime to local police but had been turned away. Although a rape is reported in India every 21 minutes on average, law enforcement failures mean that such crimes - a symptom of pervasive sexual and caste oppression - are often not reported or properly investigated. Not too long ago, another woman in a nearby district of Uttar Pradesh was gang-raped, forced to drink acid and strangled to death. Another was shot dead in northeast India while resisting attackers.
The rape and murder incident has also highlighted India's dismal record on sanitation. The Badaun girls were abducted as they went to relieve themselves. According to the 2011 Census, 53 per cent households in the country don't have toilet facilities while the figure is much higher at 69.3 per cent in rural areas. Over 78 per cent of rural households in states like Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha and Chhattisgarh don't have toilets. That is like 4 in 5 without toilet facility!
Surely India needs more toilets than Hindu temples. It is high time for India to straighten her priorities rather than stoking hatred and fear that only divide this country of many castes and creeds.
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored nine books. His book: "Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity" is available at Amazon.com.