(This story first appeared on 10 November 2022. It is being republished from The Quint’s archives in light of the Gujarat High Court hearing contempt petition concerning the incident.)
Suhana Bano (34) last saw her father Sabir Ali Sayyed (65) on 4 October. This was the day when at least four Muslim men were tied to a pole and beaten, allegedly by Gujarat police personnel in plain clothes, in her village Undhela in Gujarat's Kheda district.
Soon, videos of these men being publicly flogged went viral on social media. In one of those videos, Bano saw her father.
"He wasn't tied to the pole or beaten up. In one of the videos, I saw that a man grabbed him (Sayyed) by his arm and took him straight to the police van," Bano said as she sat at the counter of her family-run grocery store in the village.
"Neighbours informed us that he was picked up while he was offering namaaz," she added.
Following an FIR filed on the basis of a complaint by the village Sarpanch, Indravadan Manibhai Patel, the Kheda Police arrested Sayyed and 42 other Muslim men (including those who were flogged) from the village on the evening of 4 October. The were accused of pelting stones at a garba procession in the village the previous night.
"He spent 10 days in the Bilodra Jail. We heard he got bail on 15 October. But he hasn't returned home," Bano said.
As per the bail documents accessed by The Quint, Sayyed 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 Matar taluka, under which the Undhela village falls, till 31 March 2023.
'Men Have Left The Village'
The otherwise bustling village square in Undhela wore a deserted look on 4 November, one month after the incident. Shops were closed and a police van was stationed near the pole to which the Muslim men were tied and beaten up as the crowd cheered.
"There's an atmosphere of fear in the village," Bano said. In the village, which has a population of over 5,000, only a few were visible on the streets.
"With my father gone, there's nobody to run our shop. He used to look after the finances. And ours is not the only family. Most Muslim families in the village are witnessing the same problem as only women and children are left behind," Bano added.
'Grateful That We Weren't Humiliated in Public'
About 25 km from Undhela, as they sat in an empty two-bedroom house, Sameer Khan (34) and Saddam Hussain (28) -- both named in the FIR -- said that they were "distressed" when they first watched the videos.
"It was sometime in the evening (on 4 October) that we watched the viral videos. Somebody told us that they (Muslim men) were being beaten up because they pelted stones at the village temple during the previous night's garba celebrations. We were worried," said Khan, as he watched those videos play on his phone, almost a month after the infamous public flogging incident.
A farmer, Khan claimed that he had already suffered a loss of crops worth Rs five-six lakh as there is nobody to watch his farms in his absence. "I live with my sister-in-law and a 14-year-old nephew. How do you expect them to do the hard labour on our farms?" he asked.
Hussain, a meat seller, faced a similar problem.
"I have an ailing mother and wife who still live in Undhela. They don't know how to run the shop," Hussain told The Quint.
Both of them, however, were grateful that they weren't beaten up in public like the others.
"Now that I think about it, I am relieved that we were just arrested and not beaten up and humiliated in public like the others," Khan claimed. Hussain alleged, "They (Police) beat us when we were in the lock-up. That, however, is much better than being beaten up in front of the entire village."
In a private complaint, Ayub Shaikh -- one of the 43 men arrested by the Police -- named 24 persons, including the police, BJP MLA from Matar Kesarisinh Solanki and the sarpanch of Undhela. He alleged that the garba organised on 3 October was a “premeditated plan” to trap the accused.
In his complaint, Shaikh alleged, “We have learned that the local MLA, along with the other members of the village, including the sarpanch, conspired to organise the garba in the common chowk facing the mosque. On 3 October, at around 11 pm, the group with people who had come from outside the village, including MLA Kesrisinh Solanki, began throwing gulaal on the masjid. When five members of the community tried to stop them, MLA Solanki and other leaders of the village said, ‘Set these people (Muslims) straight…"
Taking cognisance of the complaint, Magistrate at the Matar Court directed the Ahmedabad Range Inspector General to conduct an inquiry into the complaint on 13 October.
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.
"We are told that the policemen accused in the case are still on duty. If it is true, where is justice? Why have we been exiled from our own home?" Khan and Hussain asked.
(The Quint has reached out to officials at the Matar Police Station and office of Ahmedabad Range Inspector General for update on the current status of investigation. This story will be updated as and when we hear from them.)