Two Muslim men who were arrested after violence over derogatory Facebook posts hit Pune earlier this month - which >resulted in a young techie, Mohsin Sheikh, being bludgeoned to death reportedly for his Muslim appearance - have alleged that they were forced to shave off their beards while they were lodged at the Yerwada Jail in the city.
Adbul Sattar Sheikh (33), a general store employee, and Kamruddin Sheikh (31), a driver, were arrested on June 2 as tempers flared in the city over the >circulation of derogatory posts with reference to Shivaji and Bal Thackeray on Facebook .
Sattar and Kamruddin, along with two others, Muddasir Gaffar (26) and Yakub Bashir Sheikh (35), were booked under Section 326 of the IPC, which deals with causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapon.
While the four accused were lodged in jail, Sattar and Kamruddin allege that the jail wardens forced them to shave their beards despite their inhibitions and objection. The duo was sporting skull caps, a give-away of their Muslim identity.
Alleging bias, Abdul Sattar said he burst into tears while pleading with the jail wardens but to no avail. "We requested them to not force us to shave our beards. We need it for namaz. But they were adamant. We asked them to direct us to the right officials with whom we could discuss our case but we were mockingly made to run from pillar to post for no use," said Sattar.
When Sattar pointed out to the wardens that the jail manual did not compel him to shave his beard, "The wardens told us 'Your rules will not apply here (jail).'"
Jailor Yogesh Desai said he had noted the statements of the victims and called for an enquiry. He, however, dismissed the allegations of bias from the jail administration.
"There is a tradition in the jail that before the new entrants are produced before the senior officials, they undergo haircutting and shaving. Muslims and Sikhs are exempted from it. Sometimes some Muslims willingly choose to cut their hair to conceal their identity. The administration plays no role in this. The prison watchmen (monitors) check such things. If anyone (warden) is found guilty I have the judicial power of obstructing his remission," he said.
Mr. Desai added that the two men were released the same day their beards were shaved. "They did not raise a protest when we came for the check the same day. I would have taken action had they brought the matter to my cognizance," he said.
The four persons were released on bail on June 4. But they have been also booked under Section 111 of the CrPC. However, the accused will challenge this in court.
According to Azhar Tamboli, a social activist following the case, Section 111 (CrPC) relates to repeat offenders. "The four persons were not even served a notice but directly booked under the Act despite being first timers," he said.