Sunday, March 3, 2024

Kerala: Muslim man’s home destroyed by RSS men after TV channel falsely accuses him in kidnapping case

Shahjahan

The House of a Muslim man was allegedly attacked and destroyed by a group of men associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after his photo and identity were aired by a Malayalam news channel as the kidnapper wanted by Kerala police in a controversial kidnapping case in Kollam district, Kerala.

Drawing a resemblance with Chandanathope native of Kollam district, 54-year-old Shahjahan’s photo along with a sketch prepared by Kerala Police was published by Amrita TV news channel which is owned by a Hindu saint also known as Amma or Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, as breaking news claiming that Shahjahan was the kidnapper of 6-year-old Abigail Sara Reji who was abducted from the same district on November 27.

Following the fake news report, the house of Shahjahan which is made up of tarpaulin and metal sheets was destroyed in his absence on the night of November 28, 2023, by a group of men supposedly associated with RSS.

The mentioned news report aired by Amrita TV was later pulled down without any explanation.

On live, Amrita TV ran the photo of Shahjahan along with headlines – “name of the accused is Gym Shahjahan”, “Grandfather of the kidnapped girl identified Shahjahan”, “person in the sketch is identified”, “people saw Shahjahan roaming around the area from where the girl was abducted.”

The House of Shahjahan was in shambles when visited by this reporter. Shahjahan who is unmarried often stays with his brother’s family whereas his 30-year-old niece, Haseena, lives with her family.

Haseena, explaining the ordeal to Maktoob, said, “On 28 November, photos of our uncle, Shahjahan, started appearing on local WhatsApp groups. Around 3.30 pm, a police team of Kundara police station came to the house where Shahjahan lives.”

Shahjahan alleged that police barged into his house after breaking the lock of the house and he got to know about it from the locals who informed him that police were in search of the kidnapper.

Haseena further said, “Around 6 pm, I and other relatives received photos of Shahjahan with the caption that he is the wanted kidnapper. Fearing, I along with Shahjahan, my husband, Nithin, and his friend Sajan went to the police station at 7 pm to inform the police that Shahjahan is innocent.”

She said, “after reaching the police station, the Sub Inspector (SI) heard us and was convinced of Shahjahan’s innocence and told us that we could go.”

Haseena added that SI even assured of sending audio messages in favor of Shahjahan to a WhatsApp group in which local elected government representatives are members.

Shahjahan told Maktoob, “It was at this time around 6- 6:30 pm when we were at the police station that my house was vandalized by RSS. I was at the police station at that time.”

Neighbors and locals are the eyewitnesses to the incident and they confirmed the act of violence and attack on Shahjahan’s house with the reporter.

Podichi (70), one of the eyewitnesses of the attack, said, “I saw 2-3 people running away after attacking the house.”

Another local Mohanan also confirmed the incident and told Maktoob, “I also saw a few attackers running away in darkness.”

Shajahan also mentioned that a neighbor named Shivan had recorded the video of the incident and identified the attackers as RSS members. However, fearing repercussions, he is now refusing to share the video and retracted his earlier statement. 

After returning from the police station on 28 November, the family happened to see a news report by the Amrita news channel.

Haseena’s husband, Jithin, called the Amrita News channel office on the same day making the channel aware of the ‘false news about Shahjahan’s arrest and involvement in the kidnapping case.”

Amrita TV’s representative responded that their reporter got confirmed information about the arrest. 

On 30 November, Amrita TV representative called Haseena about informing her that it was the police who told her that Shahjahan was a prime suspect. Maktoob got access to the call recordings of both the above-mentioned conversations.

Haseena said, “We know it was the police who leaked our details to the media.”

Shahjahan also alleges that his photo was given to the media along with his details by police officers at Kilikollur police station.

On the same day, the family returned to the police station again to inform the police about the ‘fake news report’. 

Haseena said, “After we returned to the police station on seeing the news report by Amrita, we noticed a change in the behavior of the police”. She added, “SI received some calls and after that , his attitude towards us changed. 

Another officer from Parippally police station called the officer. Someone unknown came in front of the camera and said that he was able to recognize Shahjahan. But after one hour, they video called again and said it was a mistaken identity.

Police asked us to submit evidence to support the innocence of Shahjahan. We collected CCTV footage from our nearby house to prove that Shahjahan was present in our area.” Haseena asked, “What if there were no CCTV visuals available, hinting at the helplessness in proving his innocence.”

Following Amrita TV coverage, multiple news organizations and digital platforms ran the same news including Marundan TV which also shared a photo of Shahjahan on November 28 citing a report of Amrita TV as the source. 

Another news channel named i2i also published a news piece on November 29 against Shahjahan and Haseena. The owner and news presenter named Sunil Mathew who was critical of police in the video packed with assumptions said, “There is information that an infamous thief and goonda named “Gym Shahjahan” and daughter of his brother who is in jail in a murder case have taken the responsibility of kidnapping and surrendered before the police.”

The presenter also claimed that the police said that Gym Shahjahan had a resemblance with the sketch of the suspect prepared by the police and the woman who demanded ransom was identified and it was Shahjahan’s sister’s daughter. He further mentioned in the news report that Shahjahan and the niece are being interrogated by the DIG of police and these facts are not officially confirmed by police.

The video story was published by the channel which has a huge following of around 291 thousand subscribers and this story was widely circulated with 18 thousand views and hundreds of likes. The video run by i2i channel with Shahjahan’s photo is titled “Abductors arrest. Was it Gym Shahjahan, the kidnapper? The script is in its final stages”.

These ‘fake news stories’ run by the mentioned channels were widely circulated which further facilitated Kerala Police in garnering a lot of support. People on social media sites commented in support of the Kerala Police.

When asked about why these news organizations are referring to Shahjahan as “Gym Shahjahan”, Shahjahan said that it was given by police to add a ‘notorious’ flavor to his character. 

Haseena strongly believes that there was an attempt to implicate Shahjahan falsely in the kidnapping case. 

Haseena said, “Police discouraged media and religious organizations from helping us and defamed our whole family as fraud and notorious.”

She says i2i news and others even tried to frame her as a kidnapper and even the news channel portrayed her as the woman who made the ransom call. Haseena said, “There is a nexus between these pro-Sangh media and police and if Padmakumar were not arrested, we would have been framed as kidnappers by police and media”.  

Shahjahan has now filed a complaint against the attackers, Amrita TV and Marundan TV at Kundara police station on December 1 2023 along with district leaders of the Welfare party.  

Shahjahan said that the Circle Inspector (CI) asked him to hand over the phone and promised that he would return it, but still today it has not been returned. On December 2, Shahjahan went to Kundara station to get his mobile phone back and a copy of the FIR registered against the news channel based on his complaint. 

He was not given a copy of the FIR and phone citing the absence of investigating officer. The reporter asked the constable why the phone was not returned, the constable said, “Shahjahan will have to approach the court to get his phone and maybe it is kept in custody for some other purpose”.

When asked why the seizure notice and hash value were not provided to Shahjahan the constable didn’t respond.

Circle Inspector and station house officer of Kundara Police station, Ratheesh told Maktoob that Shahjahan is a habitual offender and should not be addressed respectfully when this reporter asked why Shahjahan’s phone was confiscated when he is not even connected with the kidnapping case.

The officer said over the call, “He (Shahjahan) is a habitual offender and his phone can be confiscated anytime because of suspicions” and further refused to speak while directing the reporter to communicate with SI.

The reporter went to the police station to meet the SI but was again diverted to meet another officer. The senior civil police officer in civil dress when asked about the seizure of the phone responded, “We have not seized any phone and maybe the investigation team has seized it”. He also refuted that the CI himself had accepted the seizure. When asked about the attack, the officer said, “It was not an attack, it was just a mere fight.” The officer became angry and aggressively asked the reporter to move out when asked his name to quote. 

Haseena who was informed about this said, “This delaying and arrogant behavior is intentionally to frustrate and make us walk behind them”. 

Welfare Party Kollam district president, Shefeek Chozhaiyacodu who has been at the forefront against the attack on Shahjahan, told Maktoob, “Some channels like Karma News, Amrita TV, and Sangh Parivar groups started to accuse Shahjahan hours after the sketch of the suspect was prepared. The attack by Sangh Parivar was in its aftermath. If Padma Kumar had not been arrested, Shahjahan and his family would have been accused. Kundara CI asked me not to intervene in this case based on the religious identity of Shahjahan. Kundara Police are doing exactly what Sangh Parivar is doing and CI is behaving like Sangh Parivar with the people raising voices for Shahjahan”. 

Shefeek also said, “When RSS is attacking a person, instead of standing with the victim, the political parties should not dig into the past of the victim. If a person is involved in a crime, who is RSS to punish the accused? Our party demands those who attacked Shahjahan’s house should be brought in front of the law”.

Facebook page of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha Kerala, a militant organisation adhering to Godse and Hindutva ideology have posted photo of Shahjahan and the sketch prepared by the police. The organisation had asked people to catch Gym Shahjahan wherever he is seen.

Facebook page of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha Kerala, a militant organisation adhering to Godse and Hindutva ideology have posted photo of Shahjahan and the sketch prepared by the police.

Social activist Nasar Yusuf who also confirmed the role of Hindutvaadis in the attack told Maktoob, “The attack on Shahjahan’s house was led by a prominent leader of RSS belonging to Kuzhiyam area known as Jinu. On the same day of the attack, there were Facebook posts by Sangh Parivar activists encouraging them to attack Shahjahan.”

Meanwhile, personal attacks against Shahjahan are still surfacing on social media with mentions of his arrest in a case related to drugs.

Clarifying his position on the claims made against him on social media Shahjahan said, “I was discharged as innocent in that case by the court and I was framed falsely in the case”. 

He said, “It was our harsh living conditions and situations which made me and my elder brother commit petty crimes in our past life but now I am reformed and I live a decent by selling fish on motorbike. The police still suspect me and frame me in cases because of my history. Police often pick me whenever they are unable to produce the real culprits”.

Haseena told Maktoob, “The frequent harassment by police and this present accusation has affected our family a lot, especially my children. I have three children and they go to school, they feel harassed and bad when they are asked by their classmates about the accusations against the family”. 

The family demands necessary legal action against Amrita TV, Marundan TV, and the men who ‘attacked and vandalized’ Shahjahan’s house. Haseena said, “Let our family live peacefully”.

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