Kolhapur: When Mohammed Momin posted a video status on WhatsApp last week praising Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the 19-year-old may not have fathomed that it would trigger a two-day bandh, land him behind bars, turn villagers against his family and compel them to abandon their home “till things cool down”.
A resident of Savarde village in Hatkanangale taluka of Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, Momin is currently lodged at the sub-jail in Kolhapur after a court sent him to 14-day judicial custody Monday. He was arrested on 17 March after an FIR was lodged against him earlier that day on the complaint of a villager who accused him of ‘hurting religious sentiments’.
Momin was booked under Sections 298 (wounding religious feelings) and 505(2) (promoting enmity between classes) of Indian Penal Code (IPC). “He has hurt religious sentiments of Hindus intentionally with an ill-intent to spread content praising Aurangzeb over social media to create a rift between communities,” read the FIR, a copy of which is with ThePrint.
On 16 March, Momin had posted a video status on WhatsApp. In the video, an unidentified voice in the background can be heard saying, “Tum naam toh badal loge, lekin itihaas naa badal paaoge. Woh pahaad aaj bhi gawah hai, iss shahr ka badshah kaun tha aur kaun hai; Aurangzeb Alamgir (You can change the name, but can’t change history. That mountain is witness as to who was and still is this city’s king; Aurangzeb Alamgir).”
The criticism was aimed at the Maharashtra government for its decision to rename the city of Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar. Proposed last June by the erstwhile Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, the decision was approved by CM Eknath Shinde-led Cabinet the next month and got the central government’s nod in February this year.
The WhatsApp status triggered a backlash in Savarde, located about 360 km from Mumbai, where a large group of locals and Hindutva activists protested against him. A demand was also made to ask his family to leave the village but the gram panchayat turned it down.
However, his family members have since abandoned their home and gone into hiding, under pressure from villagers and fearing a greater backlash.
Momin’s family left the village “on their own will”, said inspector Bhairav Talekar with the Vadgaon police station. “We have not asked them to (leave). We are monitoring the situation and the matter is cooling down,” he added.
Talekar added that Momin has no prior criminal record and that the police have granted protection to his family. “To avoid any attack on the house, we have provided police protection from Day-1 and it still continues.”
Refusing to divulge more details about the origin of the video, Talekar said the police are investigating the matter.
ThePrint reached Momin’s father for comment via calls and left messages with a relative, but did not get a response by the time of publication. This report will be updated when a response is received.
“They have decided not to return until he comes home. They also said since the matter is still fresh, it was better to stay away and return when things cooled down,” said a relative, who claimed to be in touch with the family.
Momin and his family make a living by stitching and selling bardana bags made of jute.
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‘Asking family to leave was unreasonable’
The police complaint against Momin was filed by Parshuram Chavan, a former secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Hatkanangale taluka. In his complaint, Chavan accused Momin of trying to “create a rift between communities” with his WhatsApp status.
“Our village is 80-85 per cent Hindus. And so, the village decided that this family should not stay in the village because of their extreme mindset. So that such incidents are not repeated in the future,” Chavan told ThePrint. “We did not want communal tensions in the village to rise so we asked the police to arrest him.”
Following the complaint, local people, pro-Hindutva activists and members of the Sambhaji Bhide-led Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan staged a protest against Momin and demanded that the gram panchayat order him and his family to leave the village. A two-day bandh (17 and 18 March) was also called by villagers in Savarde.
On how he dealt with the demand for the ouster of Momin’s family from the village, Savarde sarpanch Amol Kamble said, “I was a bit confused initially. But there was a two-day bandh in the village so I took these two days to think over the demand, talk to authorities, and take legal advice.”
“Their (protesters’) emotions got hurt…Although even we as gram panchayat don’t support the WhatsApp status but the demand was unreasonable. There was pressure on me but I have to act as per the law,” he added.
Villagers said Savarde was relatively quiet all these years and that communal tensions were not a part of the character of the village but they felt things are now changing.
Kalandar Badshah, a village elder, recalled how earlier, residents would try to resolve their differences amicably through dialogue. “We, as a community, condemn the WhatsApp status he shared. Here, we have been staying in harmony for years. We celebrate each other’s festivals, and invite each other to our houses, but things changed in the last week. Don’t know what is in the people’s minds now,” Badshah said.
Momin’s cousin Haidar Harun Momin, also a resident of Savarde, said though villagers’ behaviour towards him hasn’t changed, the first two days after the FIR was lodged were intense. “In those two days, we felt scared that because of my cousin, we should not get affected. My grandmother’s health deteriorated that day as her blood pressure shot up. Before this incident, I had not felt afraid. This has happened for the first time,” he said.
Adding that the holy month of Ramzan has now begun, he said, “We’re scared that no untoward incident should happen against our community during namaz or roza. There are three masjids in our village. In the last 30 years that I have been here, there was communal harmony. But now, I feel that things are changing and an atmosphere of polarisation is being felt.”
A similar incident was reported from Minche — another village about 1 km from Savarde — where police registered an FIR on 18 March against a Muslim boy for allegedly posting a WhatsApp status praising Aurangzeb.
“An FIR is registered in this case but we are yet to take action against the youth in the Minche case. No arrests have been made yet,” Talekar said.
The inspector added that another case came to light on 21 March from Khochi village where a Muslim boy in his 20s was accused of putting a WhatsApp status praising the 17th-century Mughal ruler. Talekar said the police are yet to receive an official complaint and that the villagers are trying to resolve the matter among themselves.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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