Since his arrest, Mohammad Bilal’s family has been unable to meet him in jail due to the fear of being detained like the family members of many others who dared to visit their kins in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur jail.
Local police arrested 85 Muslim men of different age groups in connection with the violence that broke out on 10 June outside Saharanpur Jama Masjid. Muslims were protesting the derogatory remarks by former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma against Prophet Mohammad.
Bilal, 26, was one of them.
On the evening of June 11, a video of cops beating nine men with a baton went viral on the internet. The video was shared on Twitter by BJP legislator Shalabh Tripathi with the caption, “balvaiyo ka return gift” – return gift for rioters. The post was deleted following outrage.
Later, National Human Rights Commission directed Saharanpur police to submit a report in four weeks over a complaint of police brutality against the detainees.
While the protests were going on after the Friday prayers, Bilal, as per his brother Mohammad Ikram, was sitting outside his home with his friends. The next day, police caught him on the road, and soon he was bundled into the police vehicle and taken away.
That evening, Bilal’s mother received a call from an unknown number. It was Bilal calling to inform her about his arrest from the jail.
“We have proof as well,” said Ikram, “The camera outside our house has recorded it.” About twenty days later, none of these 85 men arrested has received bail and they continue languishing in jail.
“The situation at home has been so bad since then,” Ikram told Maktoob. “He had recently gotten married.”
For Bilal’s family, fighting his case has been hard due to financial crunches. While the lawyers have not been charging the family for fighting for Bilal’s bail, covering the cost of documentation has stressed his brothers and father, all labourers.
“The local lawyers are trying to help us but nothing is happening till now. He was beaten so badly. We heard that he is not even able to walk,” said Ikram. “It has been really long now but the authorities are not really helping us.”
The 20-year-old believes that his brother’s arrest was based on appearance. On the day of his arrest, Bilal was wearing a black-coloured kurta pajama and a skull cap, usually worn by Muslim men for prayers.
“His identity as a Muslim became the cause of his arrest. And he is not the only one, so many others from our area were arrested just on the basis of their clothes,” he said.
Azmat Chaudhary, father of a 17-year-old minor, Muzammil Chaudhary, who was arrested after the Friday protest agrees. His son, just like Bilal was arrested on the afternoon of June 11 while he was out to buy vegetables.
Moreover, the gate of their rented house in Saharanpur was also demolished, said Azmat, 72. “While beating them, the police had asked them to only raise slogans for Lord Ram, if they wanted to live in the village,” he added.
Apart from Muzammil’s house, another house of person accused of participating in violence was demolished.
Muzammil had recently passed his 10th class board exams and was his father’s only hope, as it had been a difficult journey for Azmat, a daily wager, to educate his son.
“He has never taken part in any protests,” he said.
The family’s final hope for Muzammil’s bail lies in the decision after the upcoming court hearing on July 7. “My wife and I have heart diseases. This has put immense pressure on us.”
Intakhab Azad, a local lawyer and social activist, along with other lawyers in Saharanpur created a panel to provide free services to the families of those arrested. Most of the men arrested are between the age group of 16 to 45, he told Maktoob.
“These families are from the labour class. Some of them are fruit sellers, vegetable sellers, construction workers etcetera and their families depend on them. Most of these men live in rented houses,” he said.
Azad said that the case is currently pending in the court and none of the men have received bail as they have been charged under section 307, attempt to murder.
“The point is when there was no stone pelting, killing, loot, or any sort of violence then how can they charge them under this section?” Azad questioned.
While Azad believes that the men will eventually be granted bail in the case “because there is no real proof against them”, the process might take a long time.
“They have created a situation where anyone who raises their voice will be behind the bars,” he said. “Nobody is willing to speak anymore.”