BHOPAL, Madhya Pradesh — On 16 May, a 33-year-old Muslim shopkeeper who lives and works in Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur district, was stripped naked and dragged by his beard from his mobile phone repair shop by Hindu vigilantes who claimed to have found him in a compromising position with a Hindu woman.
Shaikh Mohammad, a resident of New Anand Nagar in Jabalpur, runs a mobile recharge and repair shop in the city’s communally sensitive Amkhera road which falls under the Gohalpur Police station.
Last Sunday, when he opened his shop amid a lockdown to control the soaring Covid-19 cases in the state run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu woman entered the shop and asked him to recharge her mobile phone.
A few minutes later, Hindu men wearing saffron scarfs barged into the shop. These men, members of Hindu right-wing groups, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), claimed that they had caught Shaikh Mohammad in a compromising position with the Hindu woman who had come to his shop.
According to RK Gautam, Town Inspector of Gohalpur Police station of Jabalpur, they proceeded to assault Mohammad Shaikh.
The hate crime came to light when videos of the incident went viral on social media platforms.
A video of the incident posted by this journalist has been widely circulated on Twitter.
In the video, six men can be seen holding Mohammad by his beard and dragging him out of his shop while he is naked. The Hindu vigilantes can be seen making him stand outside his shop and thrashing him with slippers.
Mohammad was rescued by the policemen from the Gohalpur Police Station, who reached a few minutes later.
In a different video, the woman, who had gone to Mohammad’s shop, denied the allegation made by the Hindu vigilantes, and urged the police to not register any case against Mohammad, stating that she had visited the shop to recharge her cell phone and that he did not misbehave with her.
The Jabalpur Police also said there was no truth to the claim made by the Hindu vigilantes.
“We haven’t found any evidence which proves that they were in a compromising position during the investigation,” said Gautam, the Town Inspector. “The woman has said there was no misbehaviour by Shaikh Mohammad and there is no need for any case against him.”
During the police investigation, Mohammad refused to make any complaint against the right-wing groups, Gautam said.
However, the Jabalpur Police have registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Shaikh for violating the curfew, booking him under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
Sanjay Tiwari, convenor of the VHP in Jabalpur, said that Hindu vigilantes had barged into Mohammad’s shop on the suspicion that he was misbehaving with a Hindu woman inside the locked shop and they caught them red-handed.
When India Ahead contacted Sidharth Bahuguna, Superintendent of Police (SP), Jabalpur, and asked him why the police had not registered a case against the Hindu vigilantes for stripping and beating the Muslim shopkeeper, the police officer said Mohammed had not lodged a complaint against the men.
“He was found nude when police arrived at the spot. But no action can be taken since he isn’t agreeing to register FIR against them,” said Bahuguna.
Bhagwat Singh Chouhan, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Jabalpur range, said, “I haven’t received any complaint from the victim. We can take appropriate action if we receive any complaint from him.”
Victim terrified to lodge complaint
While Mohammed refused to speak in detail about the incident, a close friend of his told India Ahead that he is terrified of complaining against the Hindu vigilantes who dragged him from his shop and assaulted him on 16 May.
The friend said that Khan was afraid that the Hindu vigilantes would force him to vacate his shop if he took action against them.
The friend said that Mohammed had to go to the store amid the lockdown because there were some unrepaired mobile phones that his customers were insisting that he return. Since the shutter of the shop was half open, the woman entered and asked him to recharge her phone. Mohammed, the friend said, initially refused, but then agreed when the woman said that it was an emergency.
The group of men, the friend said, entered and attacked Shaikh after closing the shutter. They stripped him naked, assaulted him, and made a video that made it look like he was naked inside the shop with the woman, the friend said.
Speaking with India Ahead, a family member of Mohammed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that his shop is located in a communally sensitive area and that the men from Hindu right wing organisations constantly demand that he re-charge their phones for free, and they get into squabbles.
“He is a religious man who never skips prayers,” said the family member. “They took revenge on Sunday. It’s planned.”
(With Wajid Khan reporting from Jabalpur.)