Slapped with the charges of sedition by the Uttar Pradesh police -- Naushad Khan, 24, a resident of Ramapura colony in Varanasi, has been in jail for the last one and a half months. His family is fearful and in distress.
On August 16 this year, when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away, there were many comments on social media. Naushad allegedly wrote a post that was critical of Vajpayee and questioned his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which offended some BJP leaders. The next day, an FIR was lodged against him in Bhelupur police station. He was booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC) 505 (1)(c) (with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offense against any other class or community) and section 66 of Information Technology Act.He has been languishing in Varanasi central jail since September 5.
Speaking with Newsclick, Kaifi Khan, Naushad’s brother, claimed that Naushad did not write the said post. “Naushad has a water-plant business. On August 16, he left his mobile for charging and went to meet somebody in the market. In the evening around 6:15 p.m, a status was shared from his Facebook account, which read 'Aaj ek Aur Dangayi Tirange me Lipatne ko Tayyar hai, Babri Tera Gatil Jahannam me Jane Ko Tayyar hai' (Today, another rioter is ready to be wrapped in tricolor, Babri, your accused is ready to go to hell). The post neither mentioned Vajpayee’s name nor carried any photo of the former Prime Minister. In fact, he did not post this. His crime is that he was politically involved with Mukhtar Ansari's party.”
Kafi alleged that "Naushad's friend from his college, Neeraj Pandey, circulated the screenshot of the post among the students of Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith and other local leaders, giving it a political colour and following this, on August 17, an FIR was filed against him at Bhelupur police station and later he surrendered and was sent to the jail."
Since his arrest, Naushad's mother has been under immense fear. Speaking to NewsClick, she said, “BJP people could possibly make an issue again without no reason. I am afraid and I don't want to lose my son. I can assure you that post was not written by my son.”
However, Naushad’s is not the only story.
In another case, Arif Malik (23), a resident of Saharanpur faced similar charges when he wrote a Facebook post without naming Vajpayee. He was also slapped with similar charges as Naushad. Subsequently, Arif was sent to the district jail. An FIR was also lodged against his friends--Arif- Rihan, Hasnain, Ali, Anees, who commented on Arif's status and agreed with the post.
Newsclick approached Arif who said that "I was beaten by the police at the police station, they called me anti-national, Pakistani. One day in the jail was worst experience of my life. I did not know a Facebook status will land me in trouble."
Mustaqeem Malik, brother of Arif, and a local journalist told Newsclick, “Arif was booked under IPC 153 (a) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place ff birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 67 of Information and Technology Act. We got bail from lower court somehow. Arif did not attack any particular religion, it was just a shayri (poetry) and my brother was sent to the jail. The government wants to suppress the voice of common people."
Aleem Ahmad, who is just 17 years old, had also expressed his anger against Vajpayee and his role in Babri Masjid's demolition. He was also sent to the Noida jail for 'thirty seven' days. He was booked under section 153 (a) of IPC (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153 (b (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 295 (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and 67 of Information and Technology Act (punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) and his elder brother Zaiem Khan got punished for sharing a Facebook status on the same issue and an FIR was registered under IPC 151 ( (disturbance of public peace)) and 500 ((Punishment for defamation).
Speaking with Newsclick, Aleem's elder brother Mohammad Azeem said, "My brother is only 17 years old and wrote a Facebook post the very next day for the former PM's deat.We did not know that my brother will be booked under such serious sections. He was lodged in Noida jail among criminals and drug-addicts for 45 days for mere a Facebook post. Police arrested my father and threaten that he will lose his govt job if Aleem does not surrender. That's when Aleem surrendered, but the police said in the FIR that it is they who arrested Aleem from Noida.
Azeem further said that his elder brother shared a Facebook post and was also booked but in his case they got anticipatory bail. Aleem, who faced 37 days in jail, told Newsclick, “I could not tell you how I have been in jail for 37 days. I was sent jail for a Facebook post. Seems Atal Bihari Vajpayee is above the country. You can see my post where I did not mention any religion but faced all this because I am a Muslim. I was labelled as a anti-national.”
Coincidentally, most of those killed in the name of 'encounters' to maintain law and order in Uttar Pradesh, are either Muslims or Dalits living in abject poverty. UP has become a political hotbed and the communally volatile conditions are likely to only intensify ahead of the 2019 polls, say political observers. The BJP, whose government in the state is lead by Adityanath, has earlier, too, raked up the communal agenda to use it as a plank to polarise its voters. The cases of arrests of young Muslims in the state is adding to a pre-existing atmosphere of fear in the minds of the state’s minorities. The government seems to have clearly spelt out its intentions--any criticism of the government or the BJP will have dire consequences.