Giridih & Hazaribagh (Jharkhand): On 20 April, Shakir Hussain, 40, a resident of Paramadih village in the Gandey block of Giridih district, reached the block office to file his nomination for elections to the post of mukhiya, or village chief, of the Dokidih panchayat.
At the gate, his supporters Mohammad Ashiq and Bablu Turi raised slogans in his favour. According to him, Ashiq and Turi shouted, “Shakir Hussain zindabad (long live Shakir Hussain).”
It was noon when he finished filing his nomination, and he left to arrange iftar in nearby mosques and madrasas.
Around 4 pm, a supporter came up to Hussain, and showed him a video being shared rapidly on Facebook. The clip claimed that slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ had been raised at his nomination.
“I told my supporter that when our men had not raised such a slogan, we need not be worried,” Hussain told Article 14. They resumed iftar arrangements.
When he returned home that night from evening prayers at the mosque, there were missed calls on his cellphone, from the station house officer (SHO) and the deputy superintendent of police (DSP) of Gandey.
Hussain assured the SHO that none of his supporters had shouted such a slogan, and promised to cooperate with any investigation.
Soon, DSP Anil Kumar Singh came to his residence with a posse of policemen and asked him to accompany them.
“I went along. At the Gandey police station, I told him to call my supporters who had raised slogans and interrogate them,” Hussain said. “I tried to assure them that no one raised the slogan of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, but he was not ready to believe me.”
He was arrested along with four supporters. He said they were “harassed as if we had committed a big crime”. His supporters tried to reason with the policemen, but without luck.
During April and May 2022, two videos from Jharkhand and two from Rajasthan went viral with the claim that during campaigns for local body polls, slogans of 'Pakistan Zindabad' had been raised by supporters of Muslim candidates.
In the case of Giridih’s Shakir Hussain, he and four others were arrested and booked on charges including sedition, under the British-era section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, despite multiple Supreme Court rulings that expressly say the charge of sedition applies only when there is clear and immediate incitement to violence.
Hussain went on to lose the election after spending the entire campaign period behind bars while a video of the purported crime became viral; in another case a complaint was filed by a member of a Hindu right-wing organisation. In one case in Rajasthan, only Muslim participants at a rally were named in the first information report (FIR). The authenticity of the videos was not yet forensically examined in three of the four instances.
In several cases since 2019, police have registered FIRs and made arrests based on complaints and videos of people allegedly shouting anti-India or pro-Pakistan slogans, such as in a Muharram procession in Ujjain in 2021, at an election rally in Dakshina Kannada in 2020, and in the case of a college girl who tried to raise ‘long live all countries’ slogans at a rally in Bengaluru in 2020.
Ali Zaidi, a Supreme Court lawyer, said merely chanting the words 'Pakistan Zindabad' was not a crime in India, “just like it is not a crime to chant ‘America Zindabad, Britain Zindabad, Japan Zindabad’”, especially when the two countries continue to maintain diplomatic relations.
“Last year, the Allahabad high court granted bail to three Kashmiri students who were arrested for raising 'Pakistan Zindabad' slogans during a cricket match,” said Zaidi. “The court said India's unity is not made of bamboo reeds that will bow down to the winds of mere slogans."
The imposition of the sedition charge in such a case is an abuse of law, he said, citing the 1995 Balwant Singh Vs State of Punjab judgement of the Supreme Court, a case in which two government employees were arrested for raising ‘Khalistan Zindabad’ slogans in 1985.
“The bench of Justice A S Anand and Justice Faizanuddin of the Supreme Court had said that slogan shouting in this way by two people is not a threat to the government and law and order of India,” said Zaidi. “There is nothing in it to incite hatred and violence, and the sedition charge was removed.”
Police Added Sedition Charge As Afterthought
According to Hussain, following a medical test, when he and four co-accused were being taken to court, they were brought back to the Gandey police station unexpectedly, twice. He said sections of law invoked in the complaint seeking registration of FIR were altered.
Article 14 has seen two applications from 20 April, signed by the complainant in the case, government official Wasim Akram, appointed as a magistrate overseeing law and order during the nomination process for panchayat samiti elections in Gandey. The text of both applications was identical, including the case number, ‘35/22’.
According to this complaint seeking registration of FIR, the case was against nine men—Shakir Hussain, Aashiq, Saddam, Soheb, Taj Ansari, Inamul, Mohammad Azad, Mohammad Sabir, and Mohammad Yakub—and other unidentified accused.
The case invoked sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 171 C (interfering with the free exercise of any electoral right, offence of undue influence at an election), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.
Inquiry officer R K Rajan was entrusted with the responsibility of investigating the case.
A second application bearing the same case number, the same subject matter, and the same name of the investigating officer, sought registration of an FIR under sections 143, 149, 153 A, 171 (C), 120 B and 124A of IPC, the last one an addition.
Asked why the complainant returned to the police station and had the application re-typed in order to add section 124A, Wasim Akram told Article 14 that “everything is in the application”. He refused further comment.
According to both applications, Shakir Hussain of Dokidih panchayat shouted “Pakistan Zindabad” after filing his nomination, thus “hurting nationalist and religious sentiments”.
Terming this claim of the magistrate as “a blatant lie”, Bablu Turi, 32, a supporter of Shakir Hussain, said slogans were raised only before the nomination. “The slogan I raised was 'Shakir Hussain Zindabad' and not ‘Pakistan Zindabad’.”
He claimed the SHO, the officer in charge of the local police station, Hussain Ansari, was present barely two steps away from him.
The policeman, however, denied that he was present during the sloganeering, and said he arrived after the slogan shouting had died down.
Asked why the sedition charge had been added in a second application, the SHO said he did not know. “The status of the investigation will be known only after talking to the investigating officer,” he said, refusing to answer any further questions.
The investigating officer R K Rajan, police sub-inspector at the Gandey police station, said the SHO and the SDPO (sub-divisional police officer) had said that only they would answer questions related to this case.
Article 14 asked SDPO Anil Kumar Singh whether the claims by the accused that the SHO had been present at the spot when slogans were raised, that he was brought back to the police station while being taken to the courthouse, and that the charge of sedition was added to the FIR at this time were true.
Singh only said the investigation was confidential and progress would be shared with the court. “We cannot share anything with you,” he said.
Police Scale House Wall Looking For Sloganeer
Turi said he found out past midnight that Hussain had been taken to the police station. He went to Gandey police station immediately.
“Five policemen were present there during the night,” said Turi. “I told them that I have to tell the police station in charge or the district police officer that I am a Hindu man, and I had raised the slogan 'Shakir Hussain Zindabad, not 'Pakistan Zindabad'.”
According to Turi, the policemen refused to listen to him and asked him to leave.
Ashiq, 48, a farmer and the second man who raised slogans at the block office, said when he heard that Hussain had been detained, he went to the latter’s house, and then to the police station, around midnight.
There, he received a call from his wife. “She told me that some policemen had come inside the house by jumping over the wall, and SDPO sir had come inside through the gate,” said Ashiq.
He asked his wife to hand the cellphone to the SDPO, who he claimed told him that the policemen were looking for him. “I told SDPO sir that I am in the police station,” said Ashiq.
At the police station, the SDPO reportedly confronted him with the charge that he had raised slogans of 'Pakistan Zindabad’ earlier in the day. According to Ashiq, he had raised three slogans: 'Dokidih panchayat ka mukhiya kaisa ho? Shakir mukhiya jaisa ho (How should Dokidih’s chief be? He should be like Shakir)'; ‘Shere Shakir Zindabad’; and ‘Shakir Hussain Zindabad'.
Of nine men accused, five went to jail, including Hussain, Ashiq and another supporter named Soheb Akhtar who were arrested that night, and two others, Tajuddin (35) and Yakub Ansari (50) were picked up the next day.
An additional chief judicial magistrate in Giridih rejected bail for all five accused on 25 April. On 12 May, two days before polling day, all the accused got bail.
Supporters Warned Not To Campaign For Hussain
Hussain lost the election by 60 votes. “The main reason for my defeat is that a video with slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ went viral,” said Hussain. “As we were in jail, we could not campaign.”
Hussain said his rival’s supporters told villagers that those who supported him would be a part of the case filed against him.
One of his supporters, Mohammad Istekhar, 70, said he was unable to campaign for Hussain due to police harassment.
Though he was not present at the venue when the slogans were raised at the time of filing nominations, police searched his house on 22 April, he said. Policemen arrived after 11.30 pm.
“I started running away from the house,” said Istekhar. “About 300 feet away, I fell into a ditch and fractured my leg. In the darkness, the police couldn’t find me.”
Istekhar, who receives a Rs 3,000-pension for participating in the regionalist ‘Jharkhand movement' that ended with the formation of the state, said his son carried him to a neighbouring village where he was treated. It was another 46 days before the plaster cast on his leg was removed.
“Some people from the Hindu community told the Gandey police that Istekhar is an elderly man, that I have nothing to do with the viral video,” he said. “Then the police stopped harassing me.”
Labourer Firoz Sheikh, 31, was also stopped from campaigning for Hussain. He said a group along with Hussain tried to campaign on 10 May after the latter’s release on bail, but supporters of the rival candidate Akbar Ansari stopped them.
“We were scared because there are 50 ‘unknown’ accused in the FIR, so we did not go to campaign,” he said.
Sheikh said many youngsters in the village began to stay away from their homes at night due to the fear that they could be picked up as being among the 50 wanted and unidentified accused in the case.
Akbar Ansari, who won the poll, denied the allegations against him but said, "I know Shakir Hussain since childhood, he cannot raise such slogans." He told Article 14 some supporters may have raised the slogan.
Hussain said he demanded a forensic investigation of the video, because while there was no disturbance when his supporters’ were raising slogans with his name, the 'Pakistan Zindabad' slogan at the end appeared edited. “I have full faith that I will be proved innocent,” he said.
Villagers told Article 14 that there had been pressure on some villagers to testify that they had seen or heard the slogan being raised.
Yadunandan Pathak, an active Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader of the Gandey region and a former district president of the party, said some of his men were approached to be witnesses.
“But because of Shakir Hussain's good conduct over the years, no one was ready to become a witness,” said Pathak, who demanded a fair investigation into the allegations of pro-Pakistan slogans.
A Poll Win In Hazaribagh, Then FIR For Pro-Pak Slogans
When Shamim Ansari, 33, contested elections to the post of panchayat samiti (rural local body) member in 2017, he lost by 100 votes. In the May 2022 election, his mother Amina Bibi contested and won, in a constituency coomprising 80% Hindu voters, in Laganwa village of Shiladih panchayat, in northern Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh district.
“My mother’s victory is a pleasant gift of the hard work of our Hindu brothers,” Shamim told Article 14.
The victory, however, was marred by a 33-second video that went viral the subsequent day. The clip appeared to show Shamim shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ after counting had ended, when he emerged from the counting centre. The video was broadcast by News11, News18 and Zee News, among others.
According to Shamim, he had raised slogans of ‘Chhoti Cha Zindabad', while a supporter named Jitendra Soren had shouted, 'Mojim Saar Zindabad'. He said ‘Chhoti Cha’ was their colleague Chhotiram, and ‘Mojim Saar’ was their teacher, Mujeeb Ansari. These had been edited in the video shared on social media, he said.
Based on the video, the Barkatta block president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Sanjay Kumar Yadav, lodged a complaint with the Gorhar police station.
Yadav told Article 14 that he came across the video on the morning of 21 May on social media. “In the video, the slogans raised by the supporters of Shamim Ansari are nothing less than playing with the honour of the country,” he said.
Yadav’s written application was addressed to the Gorhar police station, in whose jurisdiction the Ansaris live. The FIR was eventually registered at the Korra police station, in whose jurisdiction the alleged incident occurred, based on a complaint by the magistrate at the counting centre, Vinod Kumar.
Shamim told Article 14 that when he emerged from the counting centre, he saw their supporters Chhotiram, Baldev Paswan, Shahdev Paswan, Sohan Murmu, Murlidhar Pandey, Jodhan Modi, Jagdish Saw, Sanjay Tudu, Basdev Marandi and others gathered. “As I came out, all the workers started shouting slogans by taking our names,” he said.
Local administration and policemen were present. “None of our supporters raised the slogan of 'Pakistan Zindabad',” he said. “If something wrong had been uttered by us, action would have been taken against all of us by the police force present there in large numbers.”
No arrest was made in the case, but Shamim was dejected that the video had gone viral. “The BJP, RSS and VHP made it an issue, so we have lost even though we won,” he said.
After the FIR was registered, Shamim tried to meet the Korra police station officials but did not get an appointment. “After that, it seemed like everything was against us,” he said.
Hindu Witnesses Say No Pro-Pakistan Sloganeering
Jitendra Soren, a 16-year-old Adivasi boy who was with the Ansaris’ supporters that day, told Article 14 that following the victory, supporters of Shamim Ansari garlanded him.
Soren said he shouted three slogans, he said, 'Shamim Ansari Zindabad', 'Nizam Ansari Zindabad' and 'Mojim Saar Zindabad’.
“I did not raise the slogan of Pakistan Zindabad. How could I?” he asked. “I am an Indian tribal, I live here, I eat the food grown in this motherland, a true Indian cannot do such a wrong thing.” He said the sloganeering was edited in the video that went viral.
According to the FIR at the Korra police station registered at the behest of the magistrate at the counting centre, Vinod Kumar, Amina Bibi (48), Nizam Ansari (50, who won the post of ‘mukhiya’ or village head), Shamim Ansari, Chhotiram, Ashraf Ansari, Mujeeb Ansari, Jagdish Saw, Ekhlaq Ansari, Ram Bachchan Pandey, Ayub Ansari, Rustam Ansari, Badruddin Ansari and other unidentified accused were booked under sections 143, 149, 153-A, 120-B, 171(c), 171-F (undue influence or impersonation at an election) of the IPC.
Ram Bachchan Pandey, an eyewitness who was also named in the FIR, said he did not go to the counting centre venue as any candidate’s supporter, but simply to know the election results. “Slogans were raised in favour of Amina Bibi after her victory, but there was no slogan of Pakistan Zindabad,” he said.
Ram Bachchan said a thorough police investigation would end in the accused being acquitted. “Because no one has the courage to stay in India and raise the slogan of Pakistan Zindabad,” he said. “People of all communities were present there. Had there been such a slogan, there would have been an immediate protest.”
Chhotan Pandey, a priest by profession, was a proposer for the nomination of Amina Bibi. He was present when slogans were raised near the gate of the counting centre. He was not named in the FIR. “Supporters of Shamim Ansari shouted slogans for five minutes. But Pakistan Zindabad was not one of the slogans,” he said, reasoning that there would have been immediate protests had such a slogan been shouted, because people from different panchayats, most of them Hindus, were present.
He added that Shamim’s mother had won despite the low percentage of Muslim voters in her constituency.
During the counting of votes, when Nizam Ansari’s closest rival Sunil Pandey was defeated by 65 votes, he reportedly demanded a recount, which officials refused to comply with.
Speaking to Article 14, Sunil Pandey said he was disappointed at losing, but did not know if pro-Pakistan slogans had indeed been raised outside.
“I saw a viral video the other day circulated in different WhatsApp groups,” said Sunil Pandey. “I don't know anything about who made it viral or how.”
Shamim claimed that some Hindu men they knew were being pressured to testify against him. “But our Hindu brothers refused to do so,” he said.
Nizam Ansari, a veteran rural politician with a 32-year career, was again elected from the Shiladih panchayat as mukhiya. He too said supporters welcomed their victory by garlanding them, and around this time Shamim raised the slogan of 'Choti Cha Zindabad'. “This was edited to ‘Pakistan Zindabad’.”
Nizam Ansari added that in all his years in panchayat-level politics, Hindus and Muslims had contested together and against one another. “But none of us has ever been a victim of such dirty politics.”
Station house officer of the Korra police station Uttam Tiwari said nobody had been arrested yet because the probe was underway.
“If we send any accused to jail today and if after investigation it is revealed that the video was edited, then I will get in trouble,” said Tiwari. “People will reach the Supreme Court, where I will be questioned.”
Tiwari said “appropriate action” would be taken after the investigation report is received. “If anyone has edited the video with the wrong intention, strict action will be taken against him.”
A forensic examination of the video will be conducted, he said.
‘Our Supporters Facing Threats To Life & Property’
Shamim and Nizam Ansari said they received threats after the video went viral.
Shamim requested deputy superintendent of police Nazir Akhtar to register an FIR regarding the threats, and the DSP advised that he register an FIR online. An application by Shamim for registering an FIR was submitted online on 24 May.
The application said the allegation that Shamim Ansari, Nizam Ansari and others raised anti-national slogans is “the result of a conspiracy by the opposition and anti-social elements”. It said Shamim Ansari, Nizam Ansari, Amina Bibi and their supporters were facing threats to their life and property.
DSP Nazir Akhtar told Article 14 that if the investigation proves that the video was edited and the accused were innocent, they could then seek action against a conspiracy to malign them.
On the status of the investigation, the DSP said he would not be able to comment immediately.
‘I Posted The Video On Facebook, Later Deleted It’
Article 14 contacted some of those who were the first to post the video on social media, to ask where they procured the clip from.
VHP member Vanraj Nayak, who posted the video on Facebook, said he was not at the venue, but received the clip on WhatsApp and shared it after a case had already been registered. “After that I got the news of the FIR, then I posted it on Facebook, but some people said that it can also be wrong, and after that I deleted it.”
On the Hindu men accused in the case, Nayak said he did not know on what basis they had been named.
Bikram Singh, 26, a member of the VHP, posted the clip on a WhatsApp group named ‘Shiladih Yuva Ekta Group’.
Asked how he got the clip that went viral, Bikram Singh first said he saw it first when somebody posted it on the WhatsApp group. Told that a screenshot clearly shows that he posted the clip on the group, Bikram Singh said somebody had sent it to him. “I do not remember.”
He confirmed that he was not at the venue and did not know who shot the video.
Vinod Kumar, the magistrate who lodged the FIR at the Korra police station, said he came to know of the incident after the video went viral. “As magistrate, I had to take action, I did what I thought was right.”
About whether policemen at the venue would have perhaps taken action on the spot had any offensive slogans been raised, he said the venue was noisy at the time, and announcements were being made. The video had clear and proximate sound, he said, while policemen at the venue were posted at the gate and not in the crowd.
On the Hindu youngsters named in the FIR, he said many may have responded in the din with ‘zindabad’ to a slogan started by somebody else.
He said the words 'Pakistan Zindabad' appeared to be spoken in a low sound. “On listening to those voices very carefully, it seems that such a slogan has been raised,” he said.
In Rajasthan, Allegations Against Muslims, AIMIM, PFI Men
In April, some media outlets posted a viral video from Jaipur, Rajasthan, claiming that supporters of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi had raised pro-Pakistan slogans at a rally. These included prominent news organisations such as Zee News, Zee Rajasthan, First India News, and Amar Ujala.
Pramod Tiwari, a journalist with Zee, tweeted the video as broadcast by the channel, which also carried a disclaimer that they had not verified its authenticity. Jaipur police responded quickly with a tweet clarifying that the rumour was unfounded and no anti-national slogans had been raised.
The other viral video from Rajasthan shared with the claim that pro-Pakistan slogans were raised was from Bhilwara in southern Rajasthan where workers and supporters of the Popular Front Of India (PFI), an Islamist outfit accused of, among other things, stoking violence during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), an organisation that the Uttar Pradesh police has sought a ban on.
On 1 June, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) freezed 23 bank accounts of the PFI, cumulatively holding deposits of Rs 59.12 lakh. In protest, the PFI called for nationwide protests by its workers.
In Bhilwara, on 3 June, PFI workers conducted a rally from Ambedkar Circle near the railway station to the district magistrate’s office, about 1.5 km away. A video emerged claiming that pro-Pakistan slogans were raised at this rally, an FIR was filed, but no arrests were made after investigations.
PFI activist Imran Rangrej, who was a part of the protest rally, said apart from PFI workers and Muslims, activists of organisations such as Scheduled Caste Development Manch and Bhim Army were present too.
“Thousands of people were present there, and after the rally all went back,” he said. On the evening of 5 June, they received information that an FIR had been registered against 20 people in the Kotwali police station of Bhilwara, under sections 143, 153-A, 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion)and 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the IPC.
Rangrej’s name was among them.
“When I saw the FIR copy, I was surprised that only Muslim names were present in the FIR,” he said. “When we issued a press release after the rally, apart from all the Muslim activists, the names of the leaders of Anusuchit Jati Vikas Manch and Bhim Army were also included.”
Pankaj Didwaniya, the secretary of the Ambedkar Vichar Manch, said he was present at the 3 June rally, a programme held under the Dalit-Muslim Ekta Manch, a forum to bring together Dalit and Muslim organisations.
“I had also organised videography of the rally that day,” said Didwaniya. “The viral video is completely fake.”.
(Mohammad Sartaj Alam is an independent journalist based in Lucknow.)