The case of a Muslim man in Gurugram being allegedly beaten up by some Hindu men in Sadar Bazar area had caught media attention on May 28 after newly elected BJP MP Gautam Gambhir had tweeted about it, insinuating it to be a hate crime and preaching about ‘secularism’.
While the usual suspects in the media jumped to the opportunity to keep the communal pot boiling, the police have almost denied the angle of hate crime in the incident. The day of the incident itself, the Gurugram police had stated that the incident was a case of a minor brawl in a drunken state. On 28 May, Gurugram Police Commissioner Mohammad Akil held a press conference in which he claimed that the victim might have been tutored.
Swarajya journalist Swati Goel Sharma delved into the entire incident and got in touch with Mohammad Barkat Alam’s cousin Murtaza over the phone. While he was initially even reluctant to talk on phone, on Sharma’s persistence, he eventually agreed to meet her in Gurugram on condition that no video is recorded. Murtaza, who is in his 40s, works in a tailoring shop in Gurugram’s Jacob Pura, around 30 kilometres from New Delhi.
According to the report, Murtaza and Barkat Alam hail from Begusarai in Bihar. While Murtaza was staying in Gurugram for the last few years Alam had come two weeks ago. Barkat, who lost his father at an early age, was earlier in Madhya Pradesh, where he worked as a mason.
On May 25, Barkat lodged an FIR (first information report) against unknown men at the city police station, saying that when he was returning from the Jama Masjid in nearby Sadar Bazaar around 10.15 pm, six unknown men cornered him. Four were on a motorcycle and two were on foot. They were drunk and told him that the skull cap was not allowed in the area. They hurled abuses at him, and the two men thrashed him and even threatened him with his life.
The police applied sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups on ground of religion), 147 (rioting) 149 (unlawful assembly), 323 (causing hurt) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of IPC or Indian Penal Code.
The incident was blown up the next day as Barkat gave statements to several television news channels claiming that he was forced to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.
However, Gurugram Police had later said that many of Barkat’s allegations did not match with his statement in the FIR as well as with the footage obtained from CCTV cameras.
For instance, while Barkat said in the FIR that six men accosted him, CCTV shows two men, out of which, only one attacked him. Moreover, Barkat had told the media that his skull cap was forcibly removed, whereas the video showed the attacker hit him on his head which displaced his cap and Barkat himself had put the cap in his pocket. While Barkat told the media he was asked to chant Jai Shri Ram and Bharat Mata ki Jai, police said he did not mention it at all in the FIR.
Meanwhile, when the Swarajya correspondent met Barkat on Wednesday (29 May), he did not know that several of his claims had been refuted by the Gurugram police a day ago.
In his defence, Barkat told the correspondent that he did tell the police about the slogans but, being illiterate, he did not know what the cops ended up recording.
On the gaps between his allegations and the probe, Barkat says the CCTV seems to have captured only one angle and the other attackers were probably out of view. He also showed his white kurta torn at the shoulders and asks, “Is this kurta lying?”
“I stand by my statement,” Barkat said and showed reluctance to speak further.
Murtaza intervened and said that the police had been very helpful and cooperative. He maintained that because they were illiterate, he was not sure of the statement Barkat gave to the police. However, he regretted saying that had Barkat also stayed back for the Taraweeh namaz, that evening and not returned alone the incident would not have transpired.
Murtaza further divulged that a local man named Haji Shahzad Khan who had helped them get back the documents which the police had impounded after the incident, took Barkat to Delhi the next morning. Barkat too, obliged by the favour agreed to go with him.
According to Murtaza, “God knows what kind of videos” were made in Delhi. “I am his guardian. Shahzad should have asked me at least,” says Murtaza. “Wahan Dilli villi mein kya kya banwaya… uske saath kya kya video banwa diya” [There in Delhi, they made god knows what kind of videos],” he says.
However, it was not clear as to what Murtaza was trying to imply and whether Haji Shahzad Khan was instrumental in tutoring Barkat to give the incident a communal aspect, as the police had claimed.
Meanwhile, before the cousins could divulge further they were cut short by fellow tailors who asked the correspondent to leave citing trouble and said the matter is with the police and they should not be speaking to the media.
According to the Swarajya report, different people of the locality had different aspects. Many shop owners the correspondent spoke to, did not know about the findings in the police probe nor could they for certain say what had transpired that day.
However, one Sardar Tanwar, who runs a gifts shop opposite the sweets shop outside of which the incident took place, said some “village buffoons” roam around in the night and they could be behind the incident.
Meanwhile, another shopkeeper, Aman Dua, who runs a grocery stall just opposite the mosque, also confirmed that Muslims in the area wear skull caps all the time without any trouble.
While many locals said the ‘mahaul’ (atmosphere) is very peaceful and they find it hard to believe that such an incident has happened in the area, some Muslim stall owners said a different story.
Nausheer Ahmed, who sells dates outside the mosque, said that he is not surprised because two similar cases have taken place in the recent past.
The details of the ground report leave much to be answered. According to Swarajya, though the police have ruled out the communal angle, the fact remains that with non-availability of audio in the CCTV footage, this cannot be ruled out completely. Moreover, given the glaring gaps between Barkat’s allegations and the footage, one also wonders if he was really tutored as the police suspects?