A video that went viral on social media on June 11 appeared to show men lined up in a police station, screaming in pain as they are beaten by a police official armed with a stick. The video did the rounds after protests broke out in several cities the previous day against remarks made by former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma about Prophet Muhammad.

The video was shared on Twitter by BJP legislator Shalabh Tripathi with the caption, “balvaiyo ka return gift” – return gift for rioters. The post was later deleted.

Scroll.in met three families in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur who have identified the men in the video as their own – 20-year-old Subhaan Khan, 19-year-old Mohammad Asif and 19-year-old Mohammad Ali. They said the men had been detained and beaten up at Kotwali Nagar police station on June 10, and are currently in jail.

“He was crying uncontrollably,” said 35-year-old Anjum Khan, who met her brother Subhaan Khan at the Saharanpur jail on June 12. “He kept asking what he had done to deserve being beaten like that at the police station. His hands were swollen. His calf muscles were blue and swollen.”

At Kotwali Nagar police station, an official denied the video was filmed there. When asked if the lock-up and interrogation rooms – where the video seemed to have been filmed – could be viewed, he denied permission.

Saharanpur Superintendent of Police (City) Rajesh Kumar said that senior police officials had asked police stations if such an incident had taken place but were told it had not.

The police do not deny that the three young men are now held at the Saharanpur jail. They claim they were picked up either from the protests or based on videos of the protest on June 10. Kumar claimed that when the men were put through routine medical examinations before they were arrested, there were no signs of violence.

According to him, the families had spoken to the media but not the police. “If they come to us, we will verify the matter, we will look into it,” he said.

All three men have been charged under 11 sections of the Indian Penal Code, including for attempt to murder, rioting, rioting while armed with deadly weapon and criminal intimidation. They have also been booked under Section 7 of the Criminal Law (amendment) Act and Section 3 and 4 of the Public Property Damage Prevention Act.

Anjum Khan dismissed the police’s denials. “All these men are from Saharanpur, they are in the Saharanpur jail now. Then what is this confusion?” she asked. “The police are trying to save their own.”

The families, all of them Muslim, said they were scared to go to the police. They believe that the police were picking up innocent people to meet their “targets”. In other words, to show that they were cracking down on those who had protested on June 10.

A scooter purchase

According to Anjum Khan, her brother was held at the police station as he went to help out his friend, Mohammad Asif.

On the afternoon of June 10, Asif had gone out to buy a scooter, his family said. They said they had even managed to get CCTV footage from the shop which showed he was there at 3.48 pm that day. He had about Rs 70,000 on him to pay for the scooter.

A little later, Asif started to head back home to get some documents to complete the transaction. But he ran into the protests that had broken out after Friday prayers.

“That is when he went inside one of the side streets to avoid the police and was picked up,” said his sister, 26-year-old Tabassum Siddiqui. She said he was picked up about a kilometre away from the scooter showroom.

A few hours later, the family got calls from people who had seen Asif being taken away by the police. Asif’s elder brother, Mohammad Arif, and another relative headed for the Kotwali Nagar police station that evening.

As he headed to the police station on June 10, Arif picked up Khan, who lives two streets away.

Subhaan Khan is one of the men being beaten up in the viral video, where he is wearing a bright yellow kurta and pajama. Photo: Aishwarya Iyer

To the police station

Asif and Khan worked at wood-cutting units in a local market. They had been fast friends for five years. On June 10, Khan was home sick as his stomach was hurting, said his mother, 57-year-old Faimida Khan. But when Arif came to him for help, he could not say no.

He left quickly, telling his mother, “Ammi, they have picked up Asif.”

Arif recalled that as they reached the police station and asked what evidence they had against his brother, the police pulled Khan to another room. They suspected he was one of the protestors caught in another video, also wearing a yellow kurta and pajama. Arif said they singled out Khan because he was “wearing a yellow kurta pajama. I was not.”

According to Arif, that was how Khan and Asif ended up in the same room. In the video believed to be from the Kotwali Nagar police station, Khan is seen in a bright yellow kurta and pajama. Asif, to his right, is in dark blue.

“When we went to the police station, the police were calling him ‘the Rs 70,000 wala Asif’,” Siddiqui said – a reference to the money he had to pay for the scooter. The police returned the money to the family the next day, she said, but did not release her brother.

Anjum Khan said she went to visit her brother at the police station on the evening of June 10 , but was told that was not possible. She said she asked what evidence the police had to detain him. “The police officials spoke to me rudely and said if I do not go away they will lock me up, too,” she said. “Then, after we pleaded for a long time, they said we could only see them if we were taking food for him.”

She went back again the same night. “I quickly made some food and took it,” Anjum Khan recalled. The police at the station took the food but did not let her see her brother, she said.

She was finally able to meet her brother at the Saharanpur jail on June 12. “He said they did not give him the food,” said Anjum Khan. “He told us how he was thrashed at the police station.”

‘Swollen hands’

Asif was not the only one who got picked up near the scooter showroom. According to Mohammad Ali’s family, the 19-year-old was also there that day as he was thinking of buying a scooter. On the way back, he was picked up by the police and taken to the Kotwali Nagar police station, they said.

In the video, Ali can be heard pleading with the police official not to hit him as his hands were broken. The official continued to hit him. The family said an aunt had gone to see him at the Saharanpur jail on June 12 – the rest of the family could not go as they did not have Covid-19 vaccination certificates. When she came back, she told them his hands were swollen.

“He also said that they were taunted inside the jail – they were constantly called ‘terrorists’,” said Ali’s younger sister, Misbah. “He needs medical help – we are talking about the use of his hands. He was also not able to walk properly,” she said.

She said they had heard the police were trying to say the video was from Moradabad. “The video is from right here,” she emphasised.

The family now feel it is unsafe for Muslims to even step out of their homes. “They want to put an end to our coming generations,” said Rehana, one of Ali’s aunts.

It is a sense of bitterness shared by the other families as well. “How do you trust the law when things like this happen? Why is the Muslim always wrong?” asked Arif.