Despite lack of evidence, why are 15 men still in jail for 'celebrating Pakistan's victory'?

When the police could not gather evidence against these 15 men, it dropped the sedition charge but kept them behind bars by levelling fresh charges of "disturbing communal harmony"

It’s been days since India lost to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final, but tensions around who cheered for which team do not seem to be simmering down. In several places around the country, including Madhya Pradesh, people were arrested for celebrating Pakistan’s victory. Not for creating a ruckus or for inciting violence, but for celebrating – the charges that the police levelled against them were of sedition. When the police could not gather evidence against these 15 men, it dropped the sedition charge but kept them behind bars by levelling fresh charges of “disturbing communal harmony”.

No Evidence

Admitting that it is difficult to prove the sedition charge, Burhanpur SP RR S Parihar said: “none of them has a criminal background. After the initial investigation, we found that Section 153A is more appropriate that Section 124A (sedition).”

If there is no evidence in hand, why is the police adamant on keeping these 15 men behind bars?

Villagers have alleged that for three days after the match, policemen randomly arrested anyone who ran away from them. Mother of one of the accused said that her son was seated by his sewing machine and cutting cloth for tailoring when the police came and took him away claiming that there was a complaint against him. Another villager claims that her brother was arrested while he was defecating in the open. The police asked him to clean up and soon after thrashed him.

Who are these 15 men?

These 15 men who were arrested after the India-Pakistan match belong to Mohad village in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur district. With a population of 5,200, Mohad is a Muslim-dominated village. Only two out of the 15 arrested are literate. Living in extremely poor conditions, many of them earn even less than Rs 200 a day. While there is much hue and cry over a match, it must be noted that many of these people do not even own television sets or mobiles phones to help them keep track of cricketing events.

But what if they even celebrated Pakistan’s win? Is that enough to charge someone for disturbing communal harmony or for inciting violence in India?

In a country as diverse as India which has people of different religions and ethnicity, can a mere celebration of a team’s victory in a sport incite violence? What happened to the age-old ideology of having sportsmanship as the key to the playing a sport? It wasn’t a war happening on the cricketing field, it was a match which was being played between two teams, which happened to be India and Pakistan.

What is more worrying is the fact that there was very little history of communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in this area but with these arrests, the police have made sure that the two communities do not look eye to eye in the future. There have been reports that after the incident, Muslims have left the village in the fear that they might be the next targets of the police. Even if they have stayed back, they are too scared and have even stopped sending their children to school.

Who are these people who are telling us who should we support and who should we not? Are those people true Indians who tried to vandalise the houses of their cricketers when they could not perform in one match? Shouldn’t action be taken against them for terrorising the families of these cricketers instead of slapping charges of sedition or of disturbing communal harmony against those people who celebrated a team’s victory with crackers.

And all this for what? Just a match of cricket! Even the ones who were on the field and played the match, have now moved on. The next match with West Indies begins today and if they win the series, they would be welcomed with open arms – which they, of course, deserve. But those who were glued to their TV sets watching that match, are still reeling with the effects of India’s defeat in one match out of the hundreds they play every year.

To be true, it was not just Madhya Pradesh where these crackers were burnt. In and around national capital, the seat of all political decisions, many crackers were burnt. Places like Gurgaon, South Delhi, North Delhi heard such noises, but why was just a Muslim dominated area in an obscure place targeted? Did the authorities not deem it fit for preventive action to be taken in localities near Delhi, or are these actions just limited to people belonging to a certain socio-economic section of the society?

Irresponsible Media

Television channels were also not helping in any way. Since the day when it was decided that India will play Pakistan in the finals, there was an internal war that was playing among the news channels too, a war for TRPs. More drama meant more TRPs and thus no one tried to hold themselves back. They all made their point through drumrolls as well as through verbal attacks. But all of that, it seems, is fine. Since it is India that they were supporting. Sorry, you said sportsmanship? Oh, forget it, who cares about that.

Even derogatory messages and videos were being widely shared on social media. One such video showed ‘Muslims celebrating at a mosque after India’s victory’. But before sharing did anyone even care to notice that it was not an Indian mosque as was being said.

Pointing that out certainly makes you less Indian.

If bursting crackers can amount to charges of disturbing communal harmony, should forwarding messages to ignite tempers, not attract the same punishment? Will action be taken against them as well? Or perhaps not, because it fails to fit in the ideal image of what currently seems to be the favourite word of the country – ‘nationalism’.

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