Sukanya Shantha


In an incident that raises serious questions not just about the fate of freedom of expression in India but also the rule of law, an elected official in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad has been sent to prison for a year for declaring that he would not be participating in a condolence meeting for former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


Prior to his arrest, he was assaulted by fellow corporators but despite the violence getting recorded on video, the persons who attacked him have managed to avoid being taken into custody.


On August 17, a group of BJP corporators attacked a Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) corporator in Aurangabad after he refused to participate in the condolence meet organised for Vajpayee. Syed Mateen Sayyad Rashid, a 34-year old corporator elected from the Town Hall constituency, was attacked by several corporators including deputy mayor Vijay Autude and a lady corporator.


Curiously, Rashid was later booked and arrested under three different cases for rioting, inciting communal disharmony and also under the stringent Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers & Drug Offenders (MPDA) Act, 1981, and sent to judicial custody for a year.


The City Chowk police confirmed that a case of rioting was registered against the five BJP corporators also, but they were all let off immediately on bail.


Soon after Vajpayee’s death, Sanjay Kumar, a professor at the Mahatma Gandhi Central University in Motihari was also assaulted by a group angered by critical comments he had posted on social media about the former prime minister.


The corporators of the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation had assembled at the corporation office on August 17 to pay homage to Vajpayee, who had passed away a day before. Mateen, who was present at the meet, decided to register his protest in the standing committee meeting and announced: “I have not forgotten Babri Masjid. I shall refrain from participating in the condolence meet.” Mateen was hinting at the demolition of the Masjid that took place in December, 1992 and the alleged role played by BJP leaders in inciting the mob of Kar Sevaks and the subsequent demolition. Soon after his statement, several BJP corporators leapt on Mateen, punched him on his face and even beat him with slippers. The commotion was recorded on the house’s CCTV camera, and the footage was soon made public.


AIMIM’s MLA from central Aurangabad Imtiaz Jaleel told The Wire that Mateen was singled out and attacked. “Mateen had, without using any unparliamentary words, registered his protest against the standing committee’s decision to pay homage to Vajpayee. He was targeted by a mob of BJP corporators. But the police booked them under bailable sections and let them off within less than two hours but booked Mateen under three separate cases,” Jaleel said. City Chowk police said the five BJP corporators were booked under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation), 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly with common object) of the IPC.


Mateen was arrested soon after the commotion at the corporation’s standing committee meeting. He was initially booked under section 153 (A) of the Indian Penal Code for ‘promoting enmity between two groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’ and sent to police custody for a day. “That same evening, a few men went ahead ransacking a few private vehicles belonging to BJP leaders from Aurangabad. The next day, when Mateen was released on bail, he was booked again for the violence,” Jaleel said. Finally, the deputy commissioner of Police issued proceedings against Mateen under the MPDA sections and ordered for his judicial custody for a year. This law, mostly used in political cases, does not allow bail for a year, and the only appellate authority is the three-member advisory committee comprised of former high court judges. AIMIM plans to move the high court against Mateen’s arrest.


The Aurangabad police later issued a press statement, alleging that Mateen had been involved in several criminal cases including inciting mob violence. Police inspector Madhukar Sawant told The Wire that the proceedings under the MPDA were begun after taking Mateen’s behaviour into consideration and the several charges against him. “He has around nine criminal cases registered against him; some three of them were registered in last three months,” Sawant told The Wire. Jaleel claimed those cases were politically motivated and were mostly filed by BJP cadres and local leaders.


Mateen is not new to controversies, though. In the past, too, he has been vocal against the corporation’s stand to build a memorial in the name of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. Mateen had objected to the decision and had pointed at the Sena’s “communal politics” and asked for the money to be spent in the welfare of common people from the city. He had also opposed to the singing of ‘Vande Mataram’ in the corporation office and sought to exert his right to ‘freedom of speech and expression’. His acts of defiance such as these have been construed as a crime and an attempt to incite communal disharmony in the city. “He has been unnecessarily taking difficult stand against the establishment. It has been his habit to disrupt the normal course of events in the corporation office,” Sawant added. Municipal commissioner Nipun Vinayak said a resolution has been passed by the corporators recommending to the government to disqualify him as a corporator.


Mateen’s move to oppose the condolence meet on August 17 did come as a surprise to his party too. “The party had issued a condolence note as soon as Vajpayee passed away. All 25 corporators of AIMIM were to participate in the condolence meet. I do not know why he decided to defy the party, but that is a separate matter. What happened to him was absolutely unfair and unconstitutional,” Jaleel added.

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