Mumbai: On April 27, a group of students, led by the student union’s vice president (VP), gathered to protest against a ragging incident at the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) campus in Vadodara.
Another set of students also gathered, to protest against the protesting students.
In no time, the two groups clashed, and eight students from the second group – all Muslims – were accused of threatening the VP with an acid attack. The incident soon took a communal turn, with the eight Muslim boys getting arrested on allegations of criminal intimidation. A rumour of “love jihad” also made its way across the campus and on social media.
The 20-year-old students’ union VP (her name has been withheld since the allegations she has made amount to sexual harassment), along with several others gathered to protest against a student named Nirbhay Mishra, who they claim made a false ragging accusation on campus.
Zuber Khan Pathan, a student who is active in student politics, began protest against the VP’s stand, along with his friends. “The VP and her friends accused Nirbhay of making a false complaint. We knew Nirbhay was not lying and hence decided to gather there in solidarity. But soon, an argument ensued between. The VP and her friend accused some of us of criminal intimidation,” said a student, who was present at the protest but has not been named in the FIR.
Students have accused the VP and the police of taking an anti-Muslim stand and only naming eight Muslim students in the FIR even when several others were present at the spot to protest. “Several among us were present at the protest. But she had categorically chosen only eight Muslim students,” a student who had participated in the protest added.
Those named in the FIR include Pathan, Fazal Khan Pathan, Akib Pathan, Mohsin Khan Pathan, Sajid Khan Pathan, and Kalim Khan Pathan. The boys, enrolled in different master’s course in the university, are close to Zuber and actively participating in the university’s political activities. They were booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code for rioting and criminal intimidation and sent to the Sayajiganj police station.
The students’ union leader in her defence, told The Wire that even though there were more students, she has named only those who were aggressive with her and threatened her. “These men have been a nuisance to the university campus for some time. They threatened to throw acid on me. I am not the sort to let go of such behaviour,” she said.
The sudden “love Jihad” turn
The VP, an independent student candidate, has the support of both the right-leaning ABVP and also the Congress’s NSUI. As soon as the argument broke out, the VP said she called Gujarat home minister Pradipsinh Jadeja. “As soon as I called him, he promised to lend complete support and that he would ensure the students are not seen on campus again. Even the police were forthcoming and ensured they took immediate action,” she said. Jadeja, however, was unavailable to comment.
Her initial allegations were restricted to what allegedly happened at the time of the protest. Later, in media interviews, she said the students were involved in “Love jihad”.
“These students have been actively getting involved with Hindu girls and are trying to spread their communal agenda. I am an active students’ representative. I have my ears closer to the ground. I have been informed that Zuber Pathan and other boys from the “Pathan group” have been involved in luring Hindu girls to fall in love with them,” she added.
When asked if she considers romantic relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women a crime, the VP claimed that “the motive behind such relations is crucial”.
The VP’s loose statements were irresponsibly carried as a headline in the Gujarati press and several communal messages were circulated on social media. Videos of Zuber and other accused students were also circulated widely. To cash in on the incident, fringe groups like the Hindu Jagaran Manch and Vishwa Hindu Parishad protested near the district collector’s office.
The VP’s allegation has been denied by both the university and the Vadodara police. “The boys allegedly threatened the VP and action has been initiated. We have taken steps to inquire into the matter. These rumours of “love jihad” are false. They have been mischievously spread to give the issue a communal colour,” said N.K. Ojha, registrar of the MS University.
Deputy commissioner of Vadodara police (zone- 1) Deepak Meghani too called “love jihad” an intentional effort to disturb the city’s tranquillity. “This is a sensitive matter. We are already looking into allegations made against the accused. But this story that they have been involved in trapping Hindu women is baseless. The media has irresponsibly spread these stories to it a communal angle,” Meghani said.
Complaints of humiliation and police excess
Soon after the arrest, Zuber’s lawyer Ashfaque Mallik accused Sayajiganj police of torturing him. A video, evidently of a harrowed Zuber pleading with his hands folded, has been making the rounds on social media. “He was beaten up by the police, taken to the crime branch office. There he was forced to confess to a crime he has not committed. The video was then made viral,” said Mallik. His family has accused the police of intentionally recording the video and leaking it to the media.
A day after the arrest, while the eight boys were produced before a magistrate court, the police slapped another case under section 151 of the Indian Penal Code for disturbing public peace.
While seven students were released after spending two days behind bars, the Vadodara police invoked Gujarat’s stringent Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) Act against Zuber. “Zuber has two cases against him. But it does not matter how many cases are pending. If any person is unfit for society, in Gujarat, we book them under the PASA Act. He has been sent off to a prison in Bhuj,” DCP Meghani told The Wire.
Zuber’s lawyer and his friends accuse the Vadodara police of intentionally singling out a Muslim student and stigmatising him by invoking the PASA Act. “He is a politically active student involved in campus issues. He has been sent 500 kilometres away to Bhuj. The police want to harm his future and term him as a criminal,” said his close associate, requesting anonymity.