A senior police official in Kheda has justified the public flogging of Muslim men in the district in October, saying it was done to maintain peace and harmony, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday.

Superintendent of Police Rajeshkumar Gadhiya made the submission in an affidavit before the Gujarat High Court.

On the night of October 3, in Undhela village of Gujarat’s Kheda district, a group of Muslim men allegedly threw stones at a garba site near a mosque. The following day, five Muslims – Jahirmiya Malek, Maksudabanu Malek, Sahadmiya Malek, Sakilmiya Malek and Shahidraja Malek – accused of being involved in the incident were dragged out in public, tied to a pole and beaten with a stick by the police as a crowd cheered.

Videos of the flogging showed the men being asked to apologise to the public.

Also read: ‘Garba jihad’: How Navratri became a communal flashpoint in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh

The five men had then moved the Gujarat High Court, contending that they were among the victims of police violence and demanded action against 15 police personnel.

This includes the inspector general (Ahmedabad range), the Kheda superintendent of police, ten constables of the Matar police station and the local crime branch in the Kheda district, an inspector of the local crime branch and two sub-inspectors.

Besides Gadhiya, two additional affidavits have also been filed before the High Court by the policemen accused of being involved in the flogging, The Indian Express reported.

In one of the affidavits, Sub-Inspector Hetalben Rabari tendered an unconditional apology but added that the flogging was done to control the law and order situation and “to prevent any kind of communal riots”.

He also told the court that the petitioners were trying to gain sympathy by mentioning that one of the persons flogged was 62 years old. Rabari alleged they did not disclose that he was charged for rioting in the past and was a prime accused in the Godhra train burning incident.

In another affidavit, Police Inspector AV Parmar told the court that the petitioners created an atmosphere of fear and terror in the village, according to The Indian Express.

He also said that the action of the police personnel was “within the scope and ambit of their powers” and that such an act of flogging was “the discharge of their duties”.

The stand of the police personnel before the Gujarat High Court comes even as an interim report by the deputy superintendent of police of Kapadvanj division ruled that the officials were to “control the accused persons using other means and shift them to other safe places”.

Based on this report, a departmental chargesheet has been issued against six accused officers who were “prima facie found involved in the incident of physical abuse”.

In October, human rights group Amnesty International said that the flogging of the Muslim men is “a serious human rights violation” that shows utter disrespect towards the law.

“We remind the Gujarat Police that punishment is never a legitimate objective for a law enforcement action, even if using less lethal weapons,” the group said. “In this case, it blatantly ignored the guiding principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, and accountability.”