Muslim Residents of Gujarat Village That Saw Public Flogging Boycotted Polls – But No One Cared

The public flogging of Muslim men accused of allegedly disrupting a Garba procession in Undhela village had made nationwide news. Members of the community now say they are living in fear and no MLA or opposition party leader has paid any attention.

Undhela (Gujarat): Malik Shahid is 24 years old, a devout Muslim and a young engineer who dreams of a future in Canada. On October 3, he was picked up from his home in Kheda’s Undhela village and taken to Matar Police Station by at least 20 policemen late at night. What happened the next day has paused his dreams and his life.

It had been an exciting day for Shahid, he had it in Ahmedabad, buying decorations, sweets and gifts for children, to celebrate the upcoming Eid-e-Milad.

But late on October 3, he and 42 others arrested along with him were taken to the Special Operation Group (SOG) office at Dabhan, 13 kilometres away from Undhela. They were arrested based on a complaint lodged by village Sarpanch, Indravadan Manibhai Patel, who accused them of pelting stones at a Garba event held as part of Navratri celebrations in the village.

The Muslim residents of the village, including the accused, have a different version of the story to share. According to them, some Muslim villagers actually objected to a few from the Garba crowd throwing gulal or coloured powder at the local Hussani Masjid. The festive crowd played loud music and performed Garba right outside the masjid, they said.

Members of the Muslim community in the village had earlier too also accused Sarpanch Patel of creating disharmony in the village in the name of religion for political gains.

Also read: Madhya Pradesh: Video of Policemen Beating Man Goes Viral, 2 Constables Taken off Field Duty

After being picked up and spending the night at the SOG office, all the 43 Muslim men were then brought back to their village. “I felt relief while getting out of the police vehicle. But when we stepped out, we were tied and beaten up one after another in front of the Hindu villagers,” recounted Shahid.

The videos of Matar Police severely and publicly beating the men went viral on social media the day the incident took place.

Screengrab from a video showing the public flogging of the Muslim accused in Gujarat’s Undhela village.

After the public humiliation, the men were taken to Matar Police Station, where the 43 were named in a first information report (FIR). The FIR charged the men under 13 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), relating to crimes such as unlawful assembly, rioting, possession of deadly weapons and deliberate acts intended to outrage reli­gious feelings.

They were later produced at the Matar Court, which sent them to Bilodra Jail.

On October 19, Shahid and a few other accused managed to secure bail from the Nadiad Sessions Court on procurement of surety of their property documents and after agreeing to several conditions including one that bars them from entering Matar taluka until March 31, 2023.

Why vote for violence?

The flogging incident took place a few weeks before Undhela voted in the second phase of the Gujarat assembly elections on December 8. Villagers told The Wire that 1,700 Muslim residents boycotted the election in protest against the public flogging of what they believe were innocent Muslim men. Several across the country have pointed that even if they were not innocent, public flogging is certainly not the way they should have been punished.

Also read: Minister Praises Gujarat Public Flogging But Where is the Rule of Law, Ask Legal Experts

The village has a population of about 5,500, comprising Hindus and Muslims.

On December 8, when the BJP won a landslide victory The Wire visited Undhela only to find empty streets. Police were deployed outside Hussaini Masjid, and there was silence in the area.

Ayub Sheikh, who is named in the FIR, is a community leader from the village and supported the boycott. Sheikh explained, “Everything is aimed at making only Hindu people stronger. Muslims are nowhere, no one cares about us. Jail or bail, we are just prisoners in this country now”.

Nilofer Pathan (39), a local from the village is proud that she did not vote. Pathan angrily asks, “We know BJP is against us, but when our brothers were flogged, did any opposition party visit them? Did any raise their voice for them?”

Yet, whether or not they boycotted the election, several villagers in Undhela expected the BJP to win.

On December 8, breaking its own record in the previous elections, the BJP won 156 of 182 seats, garnering more than half of the popular vote which paved the way for its seventh term in the state.

Disappointment was writ large on the faces of Muslim villagers of Undhela.

Pathan, a mother of two, said, “Why should I vote in elections? These goons do what they want, no MLA listens to us. We are living with tension and trauma, fearing violence every day.”

Also read: Four Key Takeaways From BJP’s Historic Win in Gujarat Assembly Elections

‘Political plot’

Police outside the Hussaini Masjid in Undhela on the day of the election results. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Sarpanch Patel, say members of the Muslim community, registered the police complaint to purportedly teach a lesson to Muslims who opposed the alleged Navratri celebrations outside the mosque.

Sayyed Naushad, another accused, who surrendered at Matar Police Station on coming to know that he had been named in the FIR, has been living away from his home. One of the bail conditions of his bail is that he cannot enter the village.

Naushad, who is a Panchayat body member, feels that this is a “political plot” to wipe out Muslims once and forever from the village.

“The Panchayat has a majority of Hindus and there are certain episodes of corruption. Before we could pass a no-confidence motion against Patel, this harassment happened,” Naushad said.

“We even told Hindu residents that we have no problem with either garba or any other celebration, but we didn’t want the mosque to be desecrated in any way, with the dance or gulal,” he added.

“We have nothing of our own, how much can we suffer? When we say anything no one listens.”

Sarpanch Patel repeated to The Wire his original claim. “They pelted stones on our garba on the 8th night of Navratri. A lot of children and women got hurt. I don’t know what motivates them to hurt us. They pelted stones around 11 pm, but no one knows why. They are famous for creating ruckus here.”

When asked if he had comments on why the accused were beaten publicly Patel claimed he did not know but added that there is always a measure of animosity

“I have no clue why they were beaten publicly. But the police acts according to set rules. Muslims don’t like our festivals, even we don’t like when they observe Muharram, but we didn’t say anything about it,” he claimed. He did not elaborate on what the “set rules” of flogging were.

Jeetu Thakur, a Hindu resident of the village doubled down against Muslim residents’ claims that they had caused disturbance in front of the mosque. “We can do garba anywhere, who are they to pelt stones?” he asked.

It was not always like this.

“I donated Rs 500 in 1999, for the construction of the temple in our village,” said Pirumiyan Sheikh, a 78-year-old named as accused in the FIR.

“Today, they are accusing people like us of troubling our Hindu brothers? Imagine our bond if I donated money as well as support for the construction of the temple. Everything is gone now,” said Sheikh.

Temples in Undhela village. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Insult and intimidation

Shahid, who is a mechanical engineering graduate and plans to pursue a Masters in industrial engineering, is filled with fear for his future after the flogging incident. “It is an everyday trauma for me, to wake up away from home, and realise that I have been banned from entering the village for nothing,” said Shahid.

Zaheer Miyan Malik, a community leader from the village, who was also publicly flogged, has been living outside the village since his release. “The atmosphere of that day was such that a father and his son would both be beaten – in front of each other,” said Zaheer.

Sixty-two-year-old Malik said that when he was being flogged, his neighbours, former classmates, and childhood friends were either hiding and watching them in pain, or cheering along with hundreds of others who were present there.

Hate has won,” said Malik.

His comment is in sharp contrast to what Sarpanch Patel said, “Now things have settled, it’s peaceful now”.

Rasik Chohan, a 34-year-old local Hindu man said he saw the flogging from his house. “One of my childhood friends was beaten. But the crowd was so loud and strong, I did not have any reason to stop them,” he said.

Crowd cheering public flogging in Undhela village in Gujarat’s Kheda. Photo: Screengrab via video.

Videos obtained by The Wire from locals in Undhela show many chanting slogans often associated with supporters and workers of Hindutva organisations as cops beat the men mercilessly with sticks.

“The Police called out Hindus from their homes to make them watch us being humiliated,” added Sheikh. “And on the forefront were local VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad], RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], Shiv Sena workers, disguised as ordinary men in the crowd, yelling slogans at the top of their voices,” he recalled.

“Even the youngest of our children now understand why they are hated and insulted. Hindu and Muslim children as young as eight or nine years old don’t play together. Hate has taught them that,” said Malik.

Out of the 43 men, five victims of flogging have moved the Gujarat high court against 15 police personnel, including the Inspector General (Ahmedabad range), the Kheda Superintendent of Police, 10 constables of Matar Police Station and the local crime branch at Kheda, an Inspector of the Local Crime Branch, and two Sub-Inspectors.

The petitioners have sought that the police personnel be “punished for contempt and non-compliance” of the directions issued by the Supreme Court in the case of D.K. Basu versus the State of West Bengal – it provides for guidelines to be followed by police during arrest and detention. They have also sought adequate compensation for the victims.