As he sat in his house in Saharanpur on June 15, the sixty-nine-year-old nervously clutched a bag of documents that show his son is a minor. His son’s Aadhaar card and school certificate say that he is 17 years and 10 months old.
According to the police, the teenager is allegedly the key conspirator of the protests that broke out in the town on June 10. They had initially claimed he is 18 years old.
On June 10, Muslims in various cities across the country had stepped out to protest against the comments made by former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma about Prophet Muhammad. In Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh, protestors clashed with the police, throwing stones as policemen fired tear gas shells at them.
Around 1 pm on June 11, his father said, the teenager was picked up by the police as he went out to buy vegetables. His father only found out about the arrest around 4 pm, when the bulldozers arrived outside their home. It was the local administration and the police, who claimed their apartment was an illegal structure.
“I pleaded with them,” said his father. “I begged them. I fell on their feet and asked them to not demolish the house. [I told them] that this was not my house and I lived here on rent with three other families, but they kept abusing me and pushing me away.”
Despite his pleas, the administration removed the iron gate leading into their home but spared the rest of the building.
The 17-year-old has been booked for various offences, including attempt to murder, criminal intimidation, rioting with a deadly weapon. After his arrest, he was taken to a children’s correctional home in Saharanpur.
“My son protested, yes. My son spoke for his rights, yes. Why should he not speak for his rights?” asked his father, holding back tears.
Saharanpur’s Superintendent of Police Rajesh Kumar (City), told ANI on June 12 that the teenager “was seen invoking and provocating [sic] groups and people to join protests. He studies in a madrasa”.
His parents said the teenager studies at the Islamia Inter College, which is not a madrasa.
In a brief interview to a local television channel on June 10, the teenager can be heard saying, “Bear in mind that history tells us that whenever Muslims have risen, they have created havoc, and god willing that will happen this time as well.”
The crowd around him cheers while police officials try to restrain them.
Towns across Uttar Pradesh have been restive since word spread about Sharma’s comments, made on primetime television on May 26. On June 3, there were protests in Kanpur demanding action against Sharma. The BJP only swung into action a couple of days later, as a number of Gulf countries condemned Sharma’s comments. On June 5, the BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Naveen Jindal, another spokesperson, who had made similar comments on Twitter. On June 10, protests broke out again, this time in cities across the country, demanding stricter action against Sharma.
In Uttar Pradesh, the administration responded with what has become a signature move: bulldozing the homes of the accused, who were suddenly deemed “illegal encroachers”.
In Kanpur, the administration demolished a four-storeyed building that belonged to an aide of the main accused in the protests. In Prayagraj, they bulldozed the home of activist Javed Mohammed, named as the “mastermind” of protests in the city.
In Saharanpur, the administration zeroed in on the teenager’s house and the home of Abdul Wakir, another accused. Speaking to the press after the demolition, Kumar, the police superintendent, said the homes were “illegal encroachments”. However, he then added, “We are taking strict action to break the backs of such perpetrators so that they don’t dare to do any illegal activities.”
About 80 of the 350 held for protests in Uttar Pradesh so far are from Saharanpur.
‘Attacked because he is a Muslim’
The teenager’s 62-year-old mother has been unwell ever since he was picked up. “She has not eaten for days,” said one of her neighbours. On June 16, the court remanded him to police custody for eight days.
The youngest of six siblings, he is the only one who lives with his family in the modest one-room apartment with a shared courtyard and bathroom.
According to his mother, he likes to spend his time reading. “My son wanted to become a doctor when he grew up,” his father said.
They are angry with the media for reporting that their son is already 18 when he is still a minor. The father showed his son’s Aadhaar card and school documents, which prove he is not yet 18.
The teenager’s mother was indignant about the charges against her son. “What crime did he commit? That he spoke up for his religion?” Referring to Sharma, she continued, “They can insult our religion and nothing will happen. But I do not think my son will return from police remand. They will kill him, they will kill him.”
Her husband shared her distrust of the police. “They are attacking my son because he is a Muslim. That is it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the recent damage to the house has added to their financial worries. “I am a poor man who struggles to pay this Rs 3,000 rent. Now my landlord is asking me for Rs 50,000 for this gate that they demolished. Where do I get the money?” asked the teenager’s father as he broke down in tears again.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court, hearing a petition against the demolitions filed by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, said demolitions should be carried out under due process, they could not be “retaliatory” measures. The Uttar Pradesh government was given three days to explain its stand.
Meanwhile, in Saharanpur, the families of the other accused fear it will be their home next.
“It has already happened to two people in Saharanpur,” said Ameen, who only goes by her first name and whose brother, Mohammad Ali, has been arrested. “We got to know that there were some development authority people here, asking about our home. So we do not know how long our home will last.”
Mohammad Arif, whose brother, Mohammad Asif, has also been arrested, said, “We are constantly looking [over our shoulder]. We worry that a bulldozer will show up in front of our home and nothing we do will matter.”