New Delhi: It’s been 84 days and five court dates since Tasleem Ali, a bangle-seller from Uttar Pradesh, was arrested on charges of child molestation after he was thrashed by a mob in Indore’s Banganga area — allegedly over his religion. While those accused of beating him up are out on bail, Ali hasn’t even got a bail hearing in the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
A state district court rejected Ali’s bail petition on 1 September, after which it reached the MP High Court, where five hearings later, it’s yet to be heard.
On the latest date on 9 November, the matter wasn’t heard, following which the judge recused himself from the case.
On the previous four dates — between 4 and 28 October — the matter was adjourned over procedural delays, including the absence of the case diary.
A case diary is one maintained by police officers while investigating a case that contains details of how the inquiry was carried out and other particulars such as the date on which the investigation began, places visited as a part of the investigation, among others. The case diary is a means to assist the court in the inquiry or trial of a case. It is, however, inadmissible as evidence.
ThePrint has accessed court orders from all the dates so far.
Speaking to ThePrint, the public prosecution and the Madhya Pradesh Police blamed the delay on each other. While the prosecution told the court that the case diary was not available on the dates of hearing, which were the reason for adjournment on two dates, the MP Police said that the delay has not been from their end and the documents were made available as and when asked for.
Incidentally, the case diary that was not available on two dates of Tasleem’s bail hearing in the high court, was available during the hearing in the district court.
Ali’s lawyer Ehtesham Hashmi said the allegations against his client are fabricated, adding that he is being denied bail for “unknown reasons”. He said there is no evidence against Ali and if his alleged assaulters can be given bail, so should he.
Meanwhile, Ali’s family, which is running from pillar to post to secure his bail, questioned if they are facing punishment for “being Muslims”.
The case relates to an incident on 22 August, when Ali was allegedly selling bangles to women by “posing” as a Hindu even as he belonged to “another community”, in the words of MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra. A video of the incident went viral immediately and the resultant ire pushed the police to file an FIR. Four men were arrested in the case.
Within 24 hours, Ali was arrested too, but on charges of molestation of a minor girl, who happened to be the daughter of one of the persons accused of assaulting the bangle-seller. Several questions arose from the sequence of events, as ThePrint reported earlier.
A charge-sheet was filed against Ali on 22 October under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as well as Indian Penal Code sections related to outraging the modesty of a woman, forgery, and criminal intimidation, among others. POCSO is a non-bailable offence, in which bail is not a right. It is the prerogative of the judge who has heard the facts of the case in a hearing to either reject or grant bail.
No charge sheet has yet been filed in the assault case.
What the prosecution and police say
Ali’s bail hearing dates in the Madhya Pradesh High Court have been mired in a series of procedural delays.
The first date on 4 October saw the prosecutor seek an adjournment, which was granted. Four days later, the case was adjourned again as the prosecution said that the case diary was not available.
The third date on 25 October saw the public prosecutor inform the court that the counter-case diary was not available this time.
On 28 October (the fourth date), the bench couldn’t hear the matter. Earlier this week, the matter got postponed after the judge recused himself from the case.
Asked about these delays, Additional Advocate General Pushyamitra Bhargav denied any delay from the prosecution.
“Most certainly there has been no delay from our side. We have informed the police and they did not give the case diary on time. Whenever we get the intimation of listing from the court, we send a copy of that to the police,” he said.
“They are the custodians of the case diary and this is normal because acquiring a case diary from the police is a tedious process but we always intimate them as per the process before hearings, we don’t know what was the reason for the case diary not being available on the given dates.”
The Madhya Pradesh police has, however, denied this. “There has been no delay from the police’s side. We will not give case diaries on our own. As and when asked for it, we made it available to the prosecutor,” said Ashutosh Bagri, Superintendent of Police, Indore (east).
IG Indore Harinarayan Chari Mishra told ThePrint, “There’s no scope of a delay from the police’s side. If we gave the case diary in the sessions court, we would have had no problem giving it in high court also. But I have to check with the government counsel to know who caused the delay.”
Bail for the ‘assaulters’ over ‘mental well-being’
Of the four men accused of assaulting Ali, Rakesh Pawar was granted bail in the first hearing on 23 September by the MP High Court, after the district court rejected his bail. The order was on the basis that the trial is likely to take a “considerable” amount of time.
Three days later, the other accused — Vivek Vyas, Rajkumar Bhatnagar, and Vikas Malviya — were also granted bail by the district court on a single bail plea, on the grounds of their counsel’s plea that one of the accused has got secured his bail from the high court and the probe is completed and most of the offenses are bailable, and there is no need to keep them in custody.
The bail order, accessed by ThePrint, contained the defence’s plea that the accused belong to “decent families and keeping them in custody will affect their mental well-being”.
Lawyer says Ali ‘framed’
Ali’s lawyer Ehtesham Hashmi said, according to the law, “bail is a right” and there is no evidence in the case.
“There should have been one single piece of evidence to what the (minor) girl is saying. But on the other hand, we have evidence that Tasleem did not molest or harass anyone, but got assaulted in full public view for his religion. POCSO charges were framed against him later with a motive to punish him when he filed the FIR,” said Hashmi.
“And even if we go according to the girl’s FIR, Tasleem touched her hands and cheeks, not any private part. But my client was beaten up, looted, and hurled with communal slurs openly. If his culprits can get bail, so should he,” the lawyer said.
He added that he has faith in the judiciary but “something is cooking that is stopping the bail for reasons unknown to me”. He said there is “no logical reason” to keep a person inside the jail when there is no “strong evidence” against him.
“Getting a case diary is a matter of hours, but they were not available on two dates of hearing which delayed the chances of getting bail by weeks. State advocates and police work in tandem, still such unnecessary and shoddy delays took place. These are tactics to delay the bail,” Hashmi added.
Punished for being Muslim? Ali’s family asks
Ali’s wife and five children, the youngest of whom is two years old, are struggling to get food on the table at their house in Brij Mou village in UP’s Hardoi district after the only earning member of their family was sent to prison.
“Muslim hone ki saza mil rahi hai kya (are we being punished for being Muslim)?,” his wife, 22-year-old Neeta, asked as she broke down.
“Tasleem is a father to three daughters and two sons. He has been selling bangles to thousands of women. You can check, he has never had any complaints of inappropriate behavior against him. He simply became a victim of the hatred we Muslims have to face every day. Is our religion our fault?” Neeta told ThePrint.
“What’s the fault of this two-year-old who is now starving because his father is a Muslim?” she added.
Ali’s parents and younger brother Salman, who stay in a nearby village, have been staying with his wife and children ever since the incident. Meanwhile, his elder brother Jamal is making rounds of the courts to secure bail.
“Ever since the incident happened, all the Muslims in the village and nearby localities, many of whom are bangle-sellers, are scared to venture out, let alone sell bangles in a ‘Hindu’ locality, which has never been the case before,” said Salman.
“If such injustices continue, poor families will starve to death in their own country,” Salman added.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)