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How a Cricket Spat Between Teenage Boys in Muzaffarnagar Became a ‘Threat to National Security’

Image for representation.  (PTI Photo)

Image for representation. (PTI Photo)

Three residents of the village may face up to a year in jail without the possibility of getting out on bail

Muzaffarnagar: Chaudhary Shamsher Ahmed is a skinny 68-year-old man who suffers from a heart ailment. His family claims he has never got involved in a fight, much less get booked for any crime. The Uttar Pradesh government, however, feels that Shamsher and his two nephews are threats to national security.

Twenty-eight people, all belonging to the same community, were arrested and three of them booked under the stringent National Security Act (NSA). This situation of communal tension, which the police saw as a fit case for the NSA, all began with a cricket match between teenage boys. Sumit Pal, 15, and his friend Asif are neighbours in Muzaffarnagar’s Pur Balyan village. On August 21, the two got into an argument during a friendly cricket match. “It was a minor fight.

"Just a scuffle,” Sumit said. But Asif’s grandmother, 81-year-old Jamila, claims her grandson came home bleeding. “His head was bleeding. He is my son Khurshaid’s only son, so naturally my daughter-in-law was upset. She kicked up a storm and confronted the Pal family.” The village elders intervened and it seemed as if the minor spat would remain just that. But on the evening of August 23, a member of the Muslim community was allegedly accosted and beaten up. Abid, who works as a help in Shamsher Ahmed’s house, claimed a group of boys ganged up on him and beat him up.

Neither Abid nor his employer Shamsher had anything to do with either Sumit or Asif – the two boys who had first got into a scuffle. A tiny on-field cricket spat had now snowballed into a communal issue. It was no longer about the cricket match. When Abid recounted his ordeal to his employer, Shamsher decided to take him to the police station. On the way, Abid noticed Sumit’s cousin Nishu Kumar standing in a corner. Abid pointed Nishu out and Shasher accosted the teen. Rahul Kumar, Nishu’s brother, claimed Shamsher beat up his own servant, “They started beating my brother up and falsely accusing him. There was a cop there and he saved him. A huge crowd started to gather there. They staged the whole thing to frame us!” Policemen rushed to Pur Balyan and promptly arrested 28 people.

Last week, three of them were booked under the National Security Act. Jamshed Ahmed, Shamsher’s 70-year-old elder brother, is the only male member of the family not in jail at this point. “My brother is a 68-year-old patient of a heart ailment but the Yogi Adityanath government says he is a threat to national security. He is skinnier than I am, he couldn’t even harm a fly! They have thrown everyone into jail. There is an atmosphere of fear here. There are no men left here.

There are cops stationed. It was no big issue but they made it Hindu a Muslim issue, even when nobody got hurt.” Most Muslim men who live on Shamsher’s street have fled, fearing persecution from the police. Jamshed said the minority community had started to fear that the administration would not side with them in any instance. The fact that former Union Minister and Muzaffarnagar’s BJP MP Sanjeev Balyan, an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, paid a visit to the village a day after the unrest has unsettled Muslims further. “Don't know if they will add more names to the FIR. They said 200 people will be arrested. The minister (Balyan), the power and all of it (the system) is theirs (the Hindus’). Nothing belongs to us. The minister (Balyan) has caused strife in this village. He said people should be booked under NSA. All 28 people arrested are from our community.”

While Balyan was unavailable for comment, News18 asked Muzaffarnagar SSP Sudhir Kumar to respond to the charge that the police had shown bias in this case. “There is no truth to this allegation.

"We are not taking any sides. All those who have been arrested have been properly screened and all evidence has been gathered against them. I assure them that no innocent person will be lodged in jail,” he said. In 2013, Pur Balyan had become one of the flashpoints in the riots between Muslims and Jats. While Jats and Muslims here have been working to repair community relations, the latest conflict with Gadariyas, a traditionally pastoralist community, may prove to be yet another flashpoint.

Chaudhary Shakir Ali, a former Pradhan, said, “We had been trying to mend fences with our Jat brothers and then some political forces realised that they would have to change tactics. That is why, they have chosen to instigate another community this time. We won’t let this become a riot. This village suffered enough in 2013.”

Meanwhile, three residents of the village may face up to a year in jail without the possibility of getting out on bail. Shakir Ali and Jamshed Ahmed are among a large group of village residents who believe the use of NSA was too harsh a punishment in this case. Over the last year, the UP government has come under criticism for its arbitrary use of the stringent act.

This comes just after Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad Raavan, who spent over a year in jail under the NSA, was released in neighbouring Saharanpur. Under this stringent act, the government can keep an accused under preventive detention for a period of 12 months. Muzaffarnagar’s SSP, however, feels the use of NSA here was completely justified. “NSA was invoked because some of the accused were trying to obtain bail. We feel that for the sake of maintaining peace in the village, it was necessary for certain people to remain in custody.

Besides, NSA is a deterrent. Now, people will think twice before disturbing the peace,” Singh said.