Palitana, Gujarat: On March 15 in Palitana, a town in Bhavnagar district in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, policemen allegedly beat up a restaurant owner and his family for refusing to give them free food.
The family of Dilipbhai Yusufbhai Nodia, 52, has been running businesses for generations now. They own six restaurants and a garment shop in Palitana.
For the last four or five years, restaurants owned by the Nodias (Dilipbhai and his five brothers) had become the source of food for the police in Palitana – but free of cost. Every day, the police would order food from any of the six restaurants for individual personnel, private parties thrown by officers and even for accused people in custody. In four years, the police paid for their bills only twice, but nowhere close to the actual amount owed, the family has alleged.
“In all these years, the police paid us only twice, in November last year. The business had hit a low due to demonetisation, so we had urged them to pay the bills. That is when they paid Rs 10,000 and Rs 900 separately on two occasions,” Rajeshbhai Nodia, the youngest of the Nodia brothers, told The Wire.
Unable to bear the losses, Dilipbhai, the eldest brother, decided to refuse to give away food for free and asked the police to clear all pending bills – an amount of more than Rs 3 lakh.
“A day after we refused to give away free food and demanded that the old bills be paid, Rawat Sinh, a police constable, came down to one of our restaurants at 10 am and said ‘Saheb ne bulaya (sir has called)’. Since Dilipbhai was not there at the time, he took Karimbhai with him to the police station,” said Rajeshbhai.
Hearing the news, Dilipbhai, their other brother Yusufbhai, Diliphbhai’s wife Jaibunben, their sons Faisalbhai and Farooqbhai, and Karimbhai’s elder son Ferozbhai rushed to the police station. V.S. Manjariya, the police inspector of Palitana police station, detained all of them along with Karimbhai and beat them while in police lock-up.
“Police did not even spare Jaibunben, a 40-year-old woman. All of them were kept in lock-up all day,” said Rajeshbhai.
“Later, at 5 pm, the police decided to parade Karimbhai through the streets of the town. They handcuffed him and made him walk while a police jeep with several police personnel followed behind. En route they made a stop at one of our restaurants and picked up Nawab, the younger son of Karimbhai, who was managing the restaurant in the absence of the others,” added Rajeshbhai.
Police did not even spare 18-year-old Nawab, who is still a student. Karimbhai and his son were paraded around for hours and then brought back to the police station.
In the evening, Yusufbhai and Ferozbhai were allowed to leave but the others were kept in police custody. Jaibunben, unable to bear the injuries from the police beatings, fell sick and had to be rushed to hospital. She was admitted to the Bhavanagar Civil Hospital for two days.
At around 11 pm, police began the process of filing an FIR against the Nodia family. Rajan Bhavanbhai Sanghvi, a local cloth merchant, filed an FIR against the six members of the Nodia family, accusing them of stealing Rs 2,000 from a nearby shop. Sanghvi had been arrested earlier on charges of rape and had been out on bail for three months. Following the FIR, Palitana police slapped charges of dacoity against the six in the chargesheet.
“Why would an established businessman steal a mere amount of Rs 2,000?” Nileshbhai Navri, a business partner of the Nodias and eyewitness to the entire incident, asked.
“That day, I was visiting the restaurant when the police barged in all of a sudden and abused me too, along with Karimbhai. They forced me to sit in the jeep as well but let me go when I stressed I was not from the family. What right does the police have to shame a family like this? Even if it was a thief, I don’t think the police has the right to parade someone across town,” added Navri.
After the incident, Rajeshbhai, the youngest of the Nodia brothers who was out of town that day and hence left unharmed, went to the Gujarat high court. IPS officer-turned-lawyer Rahul Sharma filed a petition on behalf of the family. Following the petition, the high court on April 3 quashed the FIR against the six members of the Nodia family.
During the hearing, judge J.B. Pardiwala observed that the accusations do not spell out the charges of dacoity at all. The court is, however, is yet to pass a detailed order. The high court, while quashing the FIRs against the six, has also ordered that the five men – Dilipbhai, Karimbhai, Faisalbhai, Farooqbhai and Nawab Nodia – should stay out of Palitana for three months. Only Jaibunben has been allowed to be in Palitana.
The police, however, is yet to act on the matter. Immediately after the incident, Dipanker Trivedi, superintendent of police of Bhavnagar told the media, “Palitana police had neither sought permission nor had informed [me] that a family was paraded through the town.”
A month later, Trivedi confirmed that the Nodia family submitted a written complaint against the police inspector of Palitana. “We are looking into the matter,” Trivedi stated, when asked if the police will take any action or has formed a team to investigate.
“We have rented a house in a village called Gariardhar, which is about 35 km away. The five men will be living there for three months now. But with the men of the family forced to live outside Palitana, the restaurants have been shut down. There is no one to look after the business here,” said Rajeshbhai.
“Six-seven years ago, there was another restaurant from where the police got their free food. But unable to handle the harassment, the owner eventually decided to shut down the restaurant. Since then, the police has been taking the food from restaurants owned by the Nodias,” said another businessman from Palitana on the condition of anonymity.
“Four years ago, they (the police) came to us and announced that we have been given the contract for the food to be supplied for accused held in the lock up. We were surprised, as we had never submitted any tender for the same. That is how it all began,” said Rajeshbhai. “Whenever we would ask for payments, the police would threaten our family. Once a police constable abused one of my brothers saying ‘Muslim ho fir bhi dhanda karne dete hai yahi bahut hai (You are a Muslim, it is enough that we let you set your business here)’.”
Forty years ago, Itubhai Nodia, father of the Nodia brothers, was elected corporator in the civic body election of Bhavnagar corporation. He remained a corporator for ten years and was succeeded by his wife Rehmatben Nodia, who remained a corporator for 15 years.
“When our father and mother were elected, we were the only Muslim family in Baharpara, the area we lived then. Such was our family reputation and relations with residents of all communities in the area. Even now, we reside in an area where majority residents are either Jains or Brahmins. Our relations with other residents have always been cordial. In fact, people had high regard for our family. But that is gone now,” Rajeshbhai said.
“It is not a question of money anymore. This is an attack on our social reputation and the fight is far from over,” he added.