Two Muslim men in Jamshedpur, India, have accused police of stripping them and attempting to make them have sex with each other when they were brought in for questioning about a recent kidnapping case in late August.
The cops also hurled Islamophobic slurs at them, likened them to the Taliban, and threatened to send them to Afghanistan, the two men said.
Mohammad Arzoo, 26, and Mohammad Aurangzeb, 29, filed a police case last week detailing their ordeal, as Muslims in India face increasing hate crimes under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Police picked up Arzoo late on August 24 and asked Aurangzeb to come in the next day for interrogation about the kidnapping of a young Hindu woman, according to the official complaint filed on August 27. Police said the two men were in touch with a person of interest in the kidnapping case.
On August 26, while the men were in custody, tensions escalated and the cops began roughing them up. Besides beating them, the cops threatened to kill Arzoo and Aurangzeb in a staged encounter, a common form of extrajudicial killing in India.
“In the middle of beating me and hurling abuses, one cop asked me, ‘What do you think the abductor did with the girl?’ implying rape. Then he told me to do the same,” Aurangzeb told VICE World News.
“He first told Arzoo to pull down his pants and have sex with me. When he refused, he made me lie down, forced me to remove my pants, and was forcing me to have sex with Arzoo. When I told him this cannot be done, he hit me very hard as I cried.”
“One cop made me sit on the floor and hit me with his slippers on my face at least 30 times,” added Aurangzeb, who works as a steel welder. Arzoo is an electrician.
When the police released the two men, Arzoo had been in custody for more than a day, and Aurangzeb for about eight hours.
Local police officials have denied the two men’s allegations. “From the investigation we had with the officers [on duty at the station at the time], there was some mention of a few slaps,” Tamil Vanan, senior superintendent of the Jamshedpur police told VICE World News. “However, the allegations by the two young men, especially of forced unnatural sex, is not true.”
A local government hospital that examined Arzoo and Aurangzeb after their detention reported an “alleged case of assault.”
The case has sparked outrage on Indian social media, and highlighted the widely-reported human rights violations that happen in police custody. A Human Rights Watch report found that scores of Indians have died in police custody, yet convictions are extremely rare.
A National Campaign Against Torture report found that despite COVID-19 lockdowns, India witnessed an increase in custodial deaths in 2020, with more than one suicide every week following alleged torture in police custody. The National Human Rights Commission recorded 1,680 custodial deaths in 2020 across India, including Jharkhand.
Last year, the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the United States forced many Indians—mostly on social media—to reflect on their country’s own history of police brutality, but it wasn’t enough to mobilise them to demand change.
Meanwhile, activists and human rights organisations have been seeing an uptick in the persecution of Muslims, India’s largest religious minority group, under Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. Many news and human rights reports have documented the torture and deaths of Muslims in police custody or the complicity of the police in anti-Muslim mob violence.
Arzoo and Aurangzeb denied any involvement in the kidnapping of the 19-year-old Hindu woman about which the police questioned them, or having any contact with the kidnapper. Vanan, the police officer, claimed the two men deleted their call records before the interrogation.
The case highlights the stigma surrounding an Islamophobic theory called “Love Jihad” pushed by Modi’s party leaders. They claim that Muslim men are kidnapping Hindu women to lure them into marriage and convert them to Islam. The idea has gained traction in some Indian states, triggering hundreds of arrests of Muslim men.
Aurangzeb said one of the cops accused him of kidnapping a Hindu girl and told him, “You’ll turn this country into Taliban?”
“We were relieved to be alive despite all of this,” said Aurangzeb, adding that he and Arzoo are counting on the justice system to vindicate them.
“Through this complaint, we hope that nobody else faces this again,” he said.
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.