Police said sedition charges have been filed against the 15 people for shouting pro-Pakistan slogans after the neighbouring country defeated India in the Champions Trophy finals.

Neeraj Santoshi and Shruti Tomar
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
The 15 youths who were charged with sedition in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur on Tuesday.(HT photo)

“This is a conspiracy against us…a sedition charge will ruin our lives,” rues Yusuf Tadvi, a resident of Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur district.

Hours ago, police arrested his two nephews on charges of sedition for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory against India in the finals of the Champions Trophy. The two minor boys were among 15 people from the Muslim-dominated village of Mohad picked up on the charges.

The police say the arrests followed complaints from a local resident that Muslim youth were marching in the village and shouting pro-Pakistan slogans. “So when a resident (Subhash Laxman Koli) complained about it, we took action against the accused,” adds district superintendent (SP) RRS Parihar.

But the families say they weren’t celebrating at all, and that the arrests were a conspiracy to target the Muslims as they didn’t vote for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Around 1.30 am, cops barged into our house, started searching and picked up my son Mehmud and took him away, while thrashing him all along. We didn’t celebrate Pakistani victory at all,” says Rafiq Imam, whose 25-year-old son is among the 15 arrested.

“They want to polarise the village as it has substantial population from both communities,” he alleges. All arrested have been sent to judicial custody.

A person convicted for sedition — a law introduced by the British — can be in jail for life.

Rashid says the police action has struck terror in the village and most Muslim families have sent their young children to other places to hide, as they fear police might arrest them too.

On the claims of the Muslim families that they were being targeted because they are from minority community and don’t support or vote for BJP, Superintendent of Police (SP) Burhanpur RRS Parihar rubbished the allegations .

But police rubbish these charges. “We took action because they were raising pro-Pakistan slogans and bursting crackers while marching in the area, doing it at main roads and crossings,” says Parihar.

The families allege that the bursting of crackers was a conspiracy hatched by outsides – a charge the police say they are looking into. HT reached out to the complainant but he said he was too scared to speak.

But the families aren’t convinced. Gulshaer Gulzar says his younger brother Idwar Gulzar, who is in his mid-20s, was picked up on Sunday evening while he had gone out after dinner. “It is a conspiracy against us”, he adds.

Masood Ahmed Khan, secretary of a local Muslim advocacy group, fears such police action encourages radicalism. “Over the years we have seen authorities harassing our youth in Muslim dominated areas of districts like Burhanpur, Khandwa and so on. Slapping such serious charges on our people on flimsy grounds sends a very wrong signal to the community,” he says.

This isn’t the first time people have been booked for sedition in the state.

In July 2016 a case of sedition was registered against the management of a private school in Shahdol district’s Budhar town for allegedly marking Jammu and Kashmir incorrectly on India’s map in the school diary. In December 2015, six people were booked under sedition charges by the police for allegedly insulting Chatrapati Shivaji, Hindu-Maratha communities during a procession in Dhar locality.

In another incident, 22-year-old Mehbood Ali was booked in Sheopur district for a Facebook post in which he praised Pakistan’s bowling attack and spoke about celebrating their victory.

“Team India faced defeat due to the terrific bowling of Pakistan team. India will not be able to forget the defeat. There is an Eid like celebration in Pakistan and I am also going to eat Kheer and mutton. Now, the supporters of Indian team are sitting in their homes and venting their anger on Facebook,” the message read.

Sheopur Kotwali town inspector Sunil Khemariya said, “Ali has been arrested for posting controversial statement which hurts the sentiments of people and can also lead to tension in the area.”