Indore: On 22 August, bangle-seller Tasleem Ali hit the headlines after a video of him being beaten up by a mob in Indore’s Banganga area — allegedly over his religion — went viral. Within 24 hours, however, he had himself become the subject of an FIR — for allegedly possessing fake documents and molesting a minor.
In the interim, and the days since, the case has become a quagmire of allegations and counter-allegations.
Making the affair murkier is the emergence of a video, accessed by ThePrint, that shows Ali purportedly saying he is ready to strike a compromise with the men who assaulted him, and that he does not want to file any case. A sum of Rs 6,000 that was allegedly stolen from him during the assault has been returned to him, he added.
This alleged compromise purportedly took place immediately after the assault. While police claim it was mutual, a divergent account has emerged from Ali’s family. According to them, Ali was pressured to make a deal, with the police allegedly warning him that “he will be killed by the men, who belong to Bajrang Dal”, if he goes ahead with his complaint.
However, later that Sunday night, an FIR was filed against the alleged assaulters as a video of the assault generated public ire and relatives gheraoed the Banganga Police Station in Ali’s support. Four men were arrested based on the FIR, in which Ali alleges a group of 5-6 men beat him up after asking his name, hurled communal slurs, looted him of Rs 10,000, his phone and documents, including his Aadhaar card.
Two of the accused, Rakesh Pawar and Vikas Malviya, were arrested hours after the FIR was filed, while Vivek Vyas was arrested from Gwalior the following morning. The fourth accused’s name, Rajkumar Bhatnagar, was added to the FIR Monday evening, leading to his arrest.
However, Ali himself was booked as well after he was found to have two Aadhaar cards, police said.
A whole other account has emerged from the girl who accused Ali of molesting her. According to her, she met him while he was selling bangles in their locality on Raksha Bandhan. A second FIR, based on her complaint, was filed Monday evening, following which Ali was arrested.
While the video of Ali’s assault shows communal slurs being hurled at him, the girl said he first molested her, then threatened her and her mother with a knife. However, the police complaint she registered — accessed by ThePrint — mentions no such thing. Among other allegations, she has said Ali lied about being a Hindu.
Ashutosh Bagri, the superintendent of police, Indore city, told ThePrint, “Tasleem (Ali) is not a history sheeter. There are no criminal cases against him in the past. He wasn’t carrying any weapon with him and the girl never made any such claim of her being threatened with a knife to us.”
The family waited a day after the alleged molestation incident to approach police, and now attributes the delay to fear of stigma. Ali’s family has denied the allegations outright, but police said they booked him under the POCSO Act too and the charges are under investigation.
Meanwhile, some residents of the area have questioned the molestation account, while others remain tight-lipped.
Ali was Thursday produced in the court of POCSO special judge Suman Shrivastav via video conferencing and remanded in judicial jail till 3 September.
Also read: How neighbourhood row ‘triggered’ attack on Kanpur Muslim man forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’
Rs 6,000 ‘compromise’ Ali family claims was forced
Tasleem Ali is a bangle-seller from Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh. A migrant worker, he is said to have been coming to Indore, nearly 800 km from his hometown, for the last seven-eight years to sell bangles.
The assault filmed in the viral video took place when Ali was allegedly making the rounds of Indore’s Bombay Bazaar.
According to Ali’s brother Jamal and maternal uncle Mohar Singh, police from Banganga Police Station had taken Ali to the place where he was assaulted, and had one of the alleged assaulters return Rs 6,000 to the bangle-seller as a mark of compromise.
The family also claimed Ali was pressured by the police to agree to this compromise and not file a case.
“We are poor people and our only crime was that our son Ali had two Aadhaar cards. It is illegal and police can punish him for that, but he did not molest or harass any women. He has a wife and five children. His elder daughter is the same age as the girl who has accused him of molestation,” said Mohar Singh.
Explaining the Aadhaar card issue — for which Ali has been booked under sections 467 (forgery), 467 A (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (fraudulent use of document/electronic record as genuine) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — Singh said, “He had two Aadhaar cards because when he applied for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the money came in the name of Asleem. We should have asked the authorities to rectify the error in the name. But someone suggested to Ali that he should make another fake Aadhaar by the name of Asleem, otherwise he might lose the money. We got greedy and agreed. That’s our only fault.”
The fact that Ali has two Aadhaar cards came to light when the police recovered both cards from the scene of the assault.
According to SP Bagri, policemen from Banganga Police Station had taken Ali to the scene of the crime immediately after the incident took place and found one of the men who allegedly assaulted him. Bagri said the man returned Rs 6,000 to Ali, which was taken from him during the assault. Following this, Ali said he didn’t want to register any case.
“We believe this happened because even the men knew that they would be punished for thrashing Tasleem, so both parties agreed to a compromise in the police’s presence,” Bagri told ThePrint.
He added that Ali was arrested on the basis of fake documents and not the molestation charge.
“We had concrete evidence for that (fake documents) and it calls for a punishment upto 10 years. He (Ali) wasn’t arrested for molestation or harassment. Sections of molestation were added later on the girl’s complaint. And all the allegations of molestation remain to be under investigation, but we will make sure that the innocent gets justice and the culprit gets booked,” he said.
IPC sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty); 354 A (physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures), and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) have also been added to Ali’s case.
Meanwhile, the four accused of assaulting Ali were charged under various IPC sections — 141 (show of criminal force); 142 and 143 (unlawful assembly); 147, 148 and 149 (rioting); 153 a (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony); 298 and 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt); 294 and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation); 395 (dacoity); 120 b(criminal conspiracy) and 34 (acts done in furtherance of common intention).
Also read: ‘Mandir was open for all before, now drinking water also crime’: Dad of thrashed UP Muslim boy
‘Threatened me with a knife’
The girl, who accused Ali of molesting her and whose father is among the accused arrested for the assault, says Ali had pulled a knife on her and her mother when they were shopping.
Speaking to ThePrint, the 13-year-old girl said, “When my mother went inside to get money, the bangle-seller started touching my hands and cheeks in an inappropriate way. He also said to me that I am beautiful. I yelled, and when my mother came out, he put a knife on my throat and threatened to kill (me). By then, neighbours came and he started to run away.”
However, SP Bagri said the girl has not made any official complaint about being threatened by a weapon.
The family filed an FIR a day later, and explained they didn’t do so earlier because of “lok laaj (social stigma)”.
When asked about the purported compromise, an uncle of the girl claimed it was in fact a local policeman who had given Ali the Rs 6,000 from his own pocket to “hush up the matter”. The uncle, who is also a resident in the area, further claimed that the policeman also assured the accused that no case would be filed against them since he had convinced Ali to compromise.
Ali’s brother Jamal, though, has questioned this account. “If my brother actually molested someone, why was he asked to compromise and not taken to the police? It was my brother who actually went to the police first.”
‘Beat him up because he’s Muslim’ — an eye-witness account
In the lane where Ali was beaten up, and also allegedly misbehaved with the girl, residents couldn’t exactly tell ThePrint what happened that day, saying they were inside their homes on account of Rakhi.
However, one resident ThePrint spoke to had witnessed Ali being assaulted, and said it didn’t appear that he was targeted for allegedly molesting someone.
Bhavesh, 21, is among the people seen in the viral video.
“…When I asked the men why they were beating him (Ali) up, they didn’t mention anything about molestation. They kept giving a vague description that Ali hid his Muslim identity and was selling bangles to Hindu women and doing eve-teasing on the pretext of his trade. The men asked me and my father to beat him up only because he is a Muslim,” he told ThePrint.
He also claimed that the mob had hurled communal slurs and had attempted to instigate others into beating Ali. “Listening to the slurs, some passers-by also started to beat up Ali, after knowing about his Muslim identity,” he said.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan and Manasa Mohan)
Also read: UP woman hid Muslim boyfriend’s name to marry him. Now he’s in jail for ‘deceit, conversion’