Amid a spate of murders over alleged ‘blasphemy’ or insult of Islam and street rallies by Muslim groups openly calling for beheading as a punishment for such offences, comes a disturbing case from Jharkhand.
A Hindu woman - a widow - and her two school-going minor daughters in Jharkhand have been booked for hurting religious sentiments for a social media post despite a crowd barging into their house and molesting them for the said offence.
What’s particularly appalling is that the local member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from the Congress Party, Amba Prasad, forcibly made the girls tie rakhi on the wrists of members of the crowd as a means to strike peace between the two sides.
On the evening of 10 August, a crowd of fellow villagers gathered outside the house of Kiran Devi in Sirma village of Badkagaon area in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand.
They were outraged that Kiran’s younger daughter had uploaded a Facebook status, which the crowd alleged had hurt their religious sentiments.
Below is what the statement by Kiran’s younger daughter, a minor aged 15, that is recorded in the first information report (FIR) says:
That around 8.30 pm, her elder sister, who is 17, was preparing dinner when a crowd forcibly entered their house. The crowd pinned her to the floor and held her by her throat.
Besides five other unidentified men, the culprits were Mohammed Waseem, Mohammed Sajibullah , Mohammed Nazim, Mohammed Saqib, Mohammed Tauhir and Mohammed Ashiq.
When the younger girl rushed outside to intervene, the crowd tore off her clothes, assaulted her, and threatened the family that they would have to stop their “puja-paath” and accept Islam.
After issuing this threat, the men left.
The next day, when Kiran Devi had gone for work at the local panchayat samiti office, around 15 men came to the house again.
They hurled abuses at the two girls, threatening them to either accept Islam or face the risk of being kidnapped. Son of the village mukhiya, who is also from the Muslim community, warned them that no villager would testify to the assault.
Kiran’s is one of the only four Hindu families in the village, the statement by the girl concludes.
Based on this, the Badkagaon police filed an FIR (number 205/2022) on 12 August, under IPC sections 143, 452, 341, 342, 323, 354, 354B, 153A, 295A, 504 and 506, along with Section 8 of the POCSO Act.
A video of the incident, where the younger daughter was seen forcibly being made to do sit-ups by the crowd, a few days later.
The counter case
The police made two arrests in the first couple of days. On 13 August, however, the Muslim community too filed a case of hurting sentiments against Kiran and her two daughters.
The three were booked under IPC sections 295A, 298 and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. The FIR *number 208/2022) was filed at the same Badkagaon police station.
The police, however, have not yet arrested Kiran or her daughters.
The rakhi-tying event
In an interview given to a local journalist, Kunal Singh, Kiran and her minor daughter said that the Facebook post was a short video of a Pakistani flag being replaced by a saffron flag. The elder daughter had only shared the post.
Kiran Devi said that when the crowd arrived at their house, she and her daughter immediately apologised for it with folded hands. That, however, had little effect on the mob.
The journalist asked the women if they had tied rakhi to members of the crowd out of their free will. Kiran as well as her daughter replied with a firm no.
It is pertinent to mention here that while the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan fell on 11 August this year, the local MLA, Amba Prasad, visited the village a week after the incident.
She assembled villagers at a spot, and made the two girls and their mother tie rakhis to several men in the village, including allegedly those from the mob.
Pictures of the rakhi-tying event were published in the local media.
A Facebook post by Prasad four days ago said, “Met the victim girl and family after reaching Sirma of Badakagaon. Arrests have been made in the case, search for other accused continues. Muslim brothers of the village promised to the victim girl and her family to protect her. Country and village is a joint family, don't let anyone break.”
Kiran Devi told the journalist that Prasad told her that given that her community had little strength in the village, tying rakhis was the best step towards ensuring their safety.
Kiran Devi said that she did not want to participate but was forced to do it under pressure from Prasad and her supporters.
Kiran Devi told the journalist: “The MLA met me. She said the incident has tainted the entire village and I must cooperate in restoring peace. I told her, see Didi, we are not maligning entire Sirma or the entire Muslim community. I am only trying to bring those who wronged me and my daughters to book. And they must be punished.
“A little later, I learnt that the MLA had organised a meeting of villagers, to which I was summoned. When I went there, she asked the crowd who all thought the girls to be their sister. Everyone said they did. Then someone suggested that the bond between a brother and sister is sacred and unbreakable, and must be forged with a rakhi. So rakhis were bought, and my daughters and I were made to tie the men rakhis.”
When asked by the journalist if she did it with her heart, Kiran Devi said, “No, I did it under compulsion. This festival is a Hindu community festival.How can we start a new tradition?”
She continued, “Until now we had never heard that Muslims observe Rakshabandhan. Why now? The rituals of the festival are different. There is a muhurat (auspicious time) for it and it is observed only on Purnima day of Saawan month. There is tilak-applying ceremony and exchange of sweets. What happened that day was nothing but a sham.”
Kunal Singh told this correspondent over the phone that the local mediapersons, including him, did not approve of the event either and raised the matter on a national scale.
He said that by 25 August, all six accused had been arrested. Of the six, three had surrendered before the police.
Calls made to Badkagaon police on 26 August before publishing this report went unanswered.
What Kiran Devi told Swarajya
This correspondent called up Kiran Devi on 26 August after taking her number from journalist Kunal.
She that after the incident, her family not only faces danger to life but has also lost their only sources of earning.
She said she works with the local mahila mandal, which is part of the panchayat samiti, and earns Rs 2,000 a month. Her two daughters supplement the income by giving tuition classes to schoolchildren.
Besides the two daughters, Kiran Devi has a son, who is 12 years old. She said her husband died of Cancer in 2019.
“We were already in a deep financial crisis. My husband‘s medical treatment cost us a lot of money, but that did not save him. Now, we are somehow making ends meet,” she said.
She said that it is likely that neighbours would not send their children to them for tuition classes anymore.
She said her family belongs to Teli jaati, which comes under backward castes in the village.
The Muslim residents are either upper-caste Khan or lower-caste Ansari, she said. “The crowd that came to my house comprised of Khans. Ours is one of the handful of families living amid a thousand Muslim families,” she said.
”It was always tough for us. Now, it has become worse.”
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.