'Saw My Friends Cheering Cops': Muslim Man Flogged In Gujarat's Kheda

Ground Report: One month after public flogging, Muslim man in Kheda says will never attend Hindu festivals again.

Hindi Female

(This story first appeared on 7 November 2022. It is being republished from The Quint’s archives in light of the Gujarat High Court hearing contempt petition concerning the incident.)

"I was whipped in full public view and the people I grew up with watched and seemed to enjoy it as if it was entertainment," said 48-year-old Mohammad Sarif, seated inside an empty two-bedroom house -- 25 km from his home in Undhela village in Gujarat's Kheda district.

On 4 October, Sarif, along with at least four Muslim men, was tied to a pole and beaten up with sticks, allegedly by Gujarat police personnel in plain clothes. A 75-second-long video of the incident, which took place in Undhela village in Kheda, surfaced online. In the video, one can see a crowd of hundreds gathered around chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai.

A month later, no one has been arrested.

Soon after the video went viral, the men in plain clothes were identified as police personnel of Local crime branch unit of Kheda district. Kheda SP Ashish Bhatia told the media that disciplinary action will be taken against the concerned officials. "I have ordered an inquiry and the matter is being investigated. We will take disciplinary action depending upon the gravity of the charges," Bhatia told NDTV on 7 October.

The men were beaten up, allegedly by police personnel, a day after claims of stone pelting at a garba procession during Navratri celebrations in Undhela village surfaced. In the clash that followed, seven people, including a policeman, were injured.

The Quint met Sarif in an empty house 25 km away from his house a month after the incident. "The system is punishing the victim," he said.

'Saw The Crowd Cheering The Police'

"I can still see those faces. Ramesh, the mobile shop owner; Bharat, the tailor; his son, Umesh; Dileep; Shailesh... They were all present in the crowd. They were cheering, laughing, and chanting Jai Shri Ram while the policemen were humiliating us," alleged Sarif.

After the public flogging, Sarif was arrested by the Kheda district police following an FIR based on a complaint filed by village sarpanch Indravadan Manibhai Patel. The FIR accused 43 people, including Sarif, of disrupting Navratri celebrations in Undhela.

As per bail documents accessed by The Quint, Sarif and other accused managed to secure bail from the Nadiad Sessions Court against a surety of Rs 15,000 each and on the condition that they will not enter the Matar taluka, under which the Undhela village falls, till 31 March 2023. Sarif secured bail on 19 October, 15 days after the incident.

Sarif's wife and three children still live in Undhela. He spoke to The Quint on the condition that his current whereabouts will not be revealed.


'House Vandalised by Men from Village a Day After I was Flogged'

Sarif's eldest son was detained by the police for a night after the incident and let off in the morning, he alleged. "After the flogging, some people vandalised my house and threatened my family. My eldest son, who is in college, was picked up by the police. My youngest, in class 10, is terrified to a point that he shivers at the thought of even going to a toilet," claimed Sarif, as he fought back tears.

He alleged that a day after the public flogging, some men from the village barged into his house with rods and sticks, broke the television, and some other essentials as his wife and children watched in fear.

Ground Report: One month after public flogging, Muslim man in Kheda says will never attend Hindu festivals again.

Mohammad Sarif's family found out about the flogging incident through videos which surfaced on social media.

(Illustration: Chetan Bhakuni/The Quint)

He continued, "My youngest (son) fears that if he enters the toilet, somebody will knock at the door and when he comes out, they'll take one of us away." Sarif was detained by the police on his way back home from the farms where he had gone to spray fertilisers on his crop.

The Sessions Court's condition prohibiting Sarif from entering the Matar taluka till March 2023 comes at a heavy financial cost, he said. "I am a farmer and do some wood work on the side. Both of these require me to be in the village. I need to visit my fields regularly to take care of my crops. In my absence, who will work on the fields? Who will handle the shop? How will we pay our bills? What will my family eat?" Sarif asked. The family for now is surviving on whatever savings they had, he added.

"Unfortunately, the victims are being punished and the criminals are still on duty," he said, referring to the police personnel accused in the case. The men who were flogged submitted a complaint to the police on 12 October.

In their complaint, the flogged men named 15 police personnel, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, the village Sarpanch, and a BJP taluka member.

On 21 October, a division bench of the Gujarat High Court issued a notice, returnable 12 December, to the 15 police personnel and state authorities allegedly involved in this case including the offices of IG (Ahmedabad range) and Kheda SP, 10 Constables of Matar police station and the local crime branch at Kheda, an Inspector of the local crime branch, and two Sub Inspectors.

While Sarif's lawyer Mubarak Pathan alleged that no disciplinary action has been taken against the policemen named in the complaint, The Quint is awaiting the response of the IG office (Ahmedabad Range) (This story will be updated as and when we hear from them.)

'Won't Attend Their (Hindu) Festivals Now'

Sarif's father, grandfather, and great grandfather have all lived in Undhela. His own three sons were born in Undhela, and it's the only home Sarif has ever known. "I went to school here, my children were born here. I remember attending garba celebrations as a child," he said.

A village in Kheda district's Matar taluka, Undhela has a mixed (Hindu-Muslim) population of over 5,000 people.
Ground Report: One month after public flogging, Muslim man in Kheda says will never attend Hindu festivals again.

Undhela in Gujarat's Kheda district has a population of over 5,000 people.

(Illustration: Chetan Bhakuni/The Quint)

"There were times when we helped them set up tents for the garba celebrations. We also distributed prasad and helped with other arrangements during Navratri," said Sarif. He added that his family will never attend a garba celebration again. "We couldn't attend the celebrations this year. I don't know where they (police) got my name from. But now, no member of my family will ever participate in their (Hindu) festivals," he added.


'How Will We Ever Walk Those Streets Again?'

Sarif said that him being present or absent from the garba celebrations on the night of 3 October is inconsequential. "I wasn't there," he alleged, and added, "Even if I was there and participated in the violence, where is the rule of law?

He elaborated that the police as per due procedure of law is expected to seek the custody/remand of the accused. "They should have taken us to police station and sought remand. Instead, they chose to humiliate us like this," said Sarif.

"Those videos are for everybody to see. My own family found out about what happened from the internet. Do you think people will ever forget this incident? How will I walk the streets of my village with my head held high? Can you remove those videos from the internet? Is that even possible?" he asked.

Ground Report: One month after public flogging, Muslim man in Kheda says will never attend Hindu festivals again.

Though Sarif wants to erase the memories of the day he was publicly flogged, he said that leaving Undhela is not an option for his family.

(Illustration: Chetan Bhakuni/The Quint)

Though Sarif wants to erase the memories of that day, he said that leaving Undhela is not an option for his family. "I don't want my children to grow up here but what choice do we have? We are farmers. I also have a small carpenter shop in the village. How will we take our lands with us? Who will run the shop?" he asked.

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