Kheda: It was around one in the afternoon Tuesday when residents of Undhela in Gujarat’s Kheda district say they were asked to gather in the main chowk of the village by local policemen.
Almost an hour later, 10 young Muslim men were brought to the chowk by police and each one held against a pillar used to string electric and telecom cables and caned mercilessly by policemen in plain clothes — one of them even carrying a holstered firearm — before being chased away into a police van stationed nearby.
“Bharat Mata ki Jai,” the villagers shout as the caning goes on, videos of the incident that emerged later show. Some others were seen cheering, clapping and shouting slogans.
The ‘crime’ of those Muslim men? They were among 43 men who allegedly threw stones, indulged in violence and disrupted a garba event at the same chowk the previous night.
Videos of the caning have gone viral and triggered outrage across the country for the Taliban-style instant, public punishment.
“A message was sent out to every house, we gathered at the location before the accused were beaten up, there were cameras, it was filmed,” says Gitaben Sharma, a resident of Undhela.
“It was done to teach them a lesson, to ensure such incidents don’t happen again,” adds Dilip Patel, who was injured in the stone throwing incident on Monday. “There is no doubt that it was the police who beat up the accused. Who else will do such a thing in the main chowk?”
For some villagers like Hansa Patel, wife of Bhavesh Patel who is recovering from injuries he suffered on Monday, no action is enough to put an end to the communal tension.
“We have seen enough in this village, it has been a horrible time for our family. No action can be enough,” she told ThePrint.
The chowk was filled with police personnel Wednesday when this reporter visited Undhela but none of them were willing to speak about what happened the previous day.
What happened on Monday night
Hindus of the village alleged that about 100-150 Muslim men were involved in Monday night’s trouble. They claim that the men not only threw stones but also beat up policemen and other residents at the garba with lathis and hockey sticks.
The FIR names 43 Muslim men for the violence. While 13 are in police custody, the rest are absconding.
The chowk is divided almost equally among Hindu and Muslim residents and is not new to communal tension, the Hindu villagers claimed. Similar violence was witnessed during a Bhai Dooj celebration last year, they said.
On Wednesday, the chowk was shrouded in silence and no Muslim men could be found in the area. The few Muslim women ThePrint spoke to said they knew nothing about what had happened.
The video of the caning has triggered angry political reactions.
Congress MLA from Jamalpur-Khadia, Imran Khedawala, who has written to the DGP, told ThePrint that this was nothing but an attempt to trigger communal tension in a peaceful district.
“We are not with anyone who throw stones but is this kind of action by police justified? Police do not have the right to do this. Even if those who were arrested were trouble-makers, justice should take its course based on our judicial process,” he said.
Officers at the Matar Police Station refused to comment about the caning when contacted by ThePrint.
ThePrint has also reached Kheda SP Rajesh Gadhiya and Gujarat DGP Ashish Bhatia for comment. This report will be updated when they respond.