Bhopal: A shrine in Neemuch district, about 450 km from Bhopal, was allegedly vandalised by around two dozen masked men using explosives, and its caretaker, Khadim Noor Shah, and two devotees were thrashed and robbed on suspicion of religious conversion on the intervening night of Saturday and Sunday.
According to the Neemuch Police, the unknown assailants tried to demolish the Bhedabhan shrine, situated in Jawad tehsil, using explosives from 11 p.m to 3 a.m and also left a note behind alleging that the shrine was involved in converting Hindus to Islam.
The shrine, located in a forested and deserted area under the Ratangarh Police Station, was damaged with explosives, said Neemuch superintendent of police Suraj Kumar Verma. When asked about the explosives used, he said it would be known only after forensic analysis, adding that “samples were collected from the site by the forensic and bomb squad teams.”
Shah and two devotees from Udaipur, Rajasthan, were inside the shrine when the mob allegedly attacked it. According to Shah, around two dozen masked men entered the shrine and tied them up. “They tied our hands and legs and looted us. Subsequently, they assaulted us, including the woman devotee, and dumped us around 400 metres away from the shrine,” an injured Shah is heard saying in a video clip.
In another video, the woman devotee, showing her injuries allegedly sustained in the attack, says that, at least, 20-25 armed and masked men were involved in the incident, in which her husband Abdul Rajjak was also tied up.
Rajjak has been admitted to a hospital while Shah sustained injuries as well, Verma said.
A case under Sections 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult religion), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 147 (rioting),148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons) and 149 (unlawful assembly with criminal intent) of the Indian Pencal Code has been registered against 24 unidentified people.
The note left by the attackers, who identified themselves as members of the Popular Front of India (PFI) of Malwa region, stated: “In the past couple of years, it has come to light that Muslim activities in Bhedabhan shrine area have increased although the majority population is Hindu. It has been observed that simple-minded Hindus who visit the shrine are made to change their religion.”
The note warned that “if this shrine is restored, all the Muslims in the locality will be wiped out and the administration will not be able to save them”. Though the “organisation has no name or face, it is keeping a close watch on every shrine visited by Hindus and if a Hindu visits a Muslim shrine, Muslims will face consequences”, the note further warned.
Imran Tawar, district (Neemuch) president, PFI, denied the organisation’s involvement in the incident. In a two-minute video denying the PFI’s role in the incident, he says, “It is a well thought out plan to drag the PFI into the incident. The PFI is a public organisation and has nothing to do with the incident. The note is misleading and the language used in the note can never be used by the PFI. I urge everyone to maintain peace and the police should take action and punish those responsible.”
When asked about the note, Verma said it might have been left behind to misguide the investigators and give the incident a different colour. Verma, however, said that he was not in a position to say anything about the identity of the accused, adding that the investigation is underway.
According to Verma, the area is Hindu-dominated and people from both the communities visited the shrine. “Unlike the claims made in the note, we have received no complaints of religious conversion in the district in the past one year. We will also enquire with the bordering police stations of Rajasthan to ascertain if any disgruntled elements from there were involved in the act.”
A day after the incident, the Sarva Muslim Samajh Committee organised a rally in Neemuch and submitted a memorandum to the police demanding an “impartial” probe.
Wahim Khan, president of the committee, told Newsclick, “This is an attempt to destroy communal harmony in the area as an attack on a religious place, irrespective of the religion, hurts a community. We want the police to take strict action against assailants.”
With inputs from PTI.