By KAUSHIK RAJ / Article14
Delhi: On 13 April 2022, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police arrested Mahant Bajrang Muni Udasin, a Hindu in the central district of Sitapur, for threatening rape and sexual violence against Muslim women during a celebratory procession on 2 April, marking the Hindu new year.
“If you harass one Hindu woman, then I will openly abduct your sisters and daughters and rape them,” said 38-year-old Udasin, of the Badi Sangat Ashram, in front of the Sheeshewaali masjid in Khairabad town in Sitapur district, to loud cheers from his supporters in the presence of the police.
On the same day that he threatened to rape Muslim women, Udasin also raised the slogan of “jab mulle kaate jayenge ram ram chillaayenge” (When Muslims are cut, they will shout ‘Ram Ram’).
Muni was arrested 11 days after he made the hate speech and six days after videos of the hate speech were widely circulated on social media, triggering public outrage and calls for his arrest.
While granting him bail on 23 April, additional sessions judge Sanjay Kumar noted the police registered the first information report (FIR), booking him under six sections of the Indian Penal Code 1860, on 8 April 2022, six days after he made the hate speech. “There is no explanation given for this delay,” said the judge. The FIR was registered shortly after National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma wrote to UP’s director general of police to “immediately” register a case against Udasin.
This was not the first time that Udasin had issued rape threats to Muslim women in public in police presence. Publicly available videos showed that he had issued similar rape threats on at least two occasions (here and here), for which there have been no legal proceedings, and he has threatened violence against Muslims in at least four publicly available speeches (here, here, here and here).
A study of Udasin’s criminal past revealed allegations of violence and land grabbing in Sitapur, with few efforts to rein him in by police in state run by the administration of chief minister Yogi Adityanath of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Even as a senior official in the Adityanath government and a former BJP leader in the party’s state executive committee at the time called for action against Udasin, district-level police and government officials have done little beyond registering a couple of FIRs, with locals saying they either don’t care to or are terrified of taking him on.
The impunity that Udasin seemingly enjoys, one Muslim family alleged, has allowed him to terrorise them because they fought back when he allegedly tried grabbing their ancestral land in Khairabad town in February 2021. While the three brothers of the Ahmed family who he allegedly assaulted was hospitalised for four months and then jailed for more than five months before getting bail, Udasin was never arrested and was reportedly given police protection following a violent altercation between the two sides.
Over the past year, the family has filed multiple complaints with the police alleging that Udasin is threatening to kill them and file cases over their land dispute, and one female member of the family alleged that the priest and his men tore her clothes during a confrontation.
Laiq Ahmed, 30, who was gravely injured in an altercation with Udasin and his men, along with his brothers Ateeq Ahmed, 35, and Salman Ahmed, 26, said, “We almost died. We were sent to jail while our perpetrator remained free, and now that we are out, the future looks dark. Sometimes it feels like it would be better if we had died.”
In UP, where law and order was a much-touted theme of Adityanath and the BJP during recent state elections, Udasin, after 10 days in jail for threatening to rape Muslim women, said: “I have no guilt for what I said”, referring to his remarks about raping Muslim women.
The police in BJP-ruled states have been slow to act against those who incite violence against Muslims, including another Hindu priest, Yati Narsinghanand, who the Uttarakhand police arrested 27 days after he organised a Hindu conclave marked by anti-Muslim speeches in Haridwar and was granted bail after 30 days in jail.
Former UP director general of police Vikram Singh said that Udasin was a “serial offender” and action should have been taken against him much earlier in connection with the rape threats.
“A delay, in any case, is not acceptable in criminal jurisprudence, but when it comes to handling such loose cannons, it can be suicidal and sends a very negative signal to the society and emboldens the criminals,” said Singh.
On the allegation of land grabbing against Udasin, Singh said, “All his activities need to be scrutinised very carefully and deterrent action needs to be taken on topmost priority.”
Delhi-based human rights lawyer Tamanna Pankaj said that Supreme Court guidelines in Lalita Kumari v Govt of UP (2013) make it compulsory for the police to register an FIR under section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) if the complaint discloses the commission of a cognisable offence—offences where the police can arrest without a warrant, typically punishable with more than three years in jail. These crimes include rape, murder and attempt to murder.
In this case, where the complaints were related to life threats, and one female member alleged that Udasin and his men tore her clothes, Pankaj said the police had to register an FIR.
The district magistrate (DM) of Sitapur Anuj Singh, the superintendent of police (SP) R P Singh, and the inspector of the Khairabad police station Arvind Singh did not respond to Article 14’s request for comment via phone calls and text messages. We will update the copy if they do.
An official from the DM’s office said the DM had marked the latest complaint letter of the Ahmed family to the Khairabad Police Station. Following an investigation, sub-inspector Sanjay Singh responded to the DM, saying there was no merit in the allegations the family had levelled against Udasin.
Udasin did not respond to Article 14’s request for comment via phone calls and text messages.
FIRs Registered, No Arrest
Son of a former sub-inspector in the Madhya Pradesh police, Udasin, formerly called Anupam Mishra, claimed to have a degree in business administration (BBA) and worked for Jet Airways before deciding to “work for his religion”, Dainik Bhaskar reported in 2017.
Udasin came to the Badi Sangat Ashram in Khairabad after the first Covid lockdown in March 2020. However, his authority over the ashram was questioned by a fellow priest Vishram Das, who, in a letter to the DM and SP of Sitapur on 16 July 2020, alleged that Udasin and his mentor Puran Muni beat and forced him out of the ashram. Alleging that Udasin had sold the ashram’s properties worth Rs 3 crore rupees and intended to sell more, Das wrote: “I request you to save our Badi Sangat Ashram and take action against Bajrang Muni, Puran Muni and their armed men.”
Das said no action was taken against his complaint.
Seven months later, an FIR was registered against Udasin, his bodyguard Shailendra Shukla and other unknown persons following a complaint by Mansoor Ali Khan, who alleged Udasin and his men attacked his cousins Ateeq Ahmed, Laiq Ahmed, and Salman Ahmed at around 11:30 am on 16 February when they went to sprinkle fertilizer on the mango trees on their land, located just 100 meters from the ashram.
The altercation allegedly started when Udasin and his men objected to them sprinkling fertilizer on mango trees, claiming that it was on his land. The FIR alleged that Udasin and his men attacked them with sticks and other weapons with the intent to kill and left them in dying condition.
Udasin was booked under sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in the prosecution of common object), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means) of the IPC.
Counter FIR Registered, Arrests Made
The land dispute between Udasin and the Ahmed family started in January 2021, when Udasin allegedly submitted a complaint to the Khairabad police claiming the land belonged to his ashram.
A second FIR was registered by the police against the three brothers— Ateeq, Laiq, and Salman, and other unknown persons—following a complaint by Rohit Kumar Tiwari, a priest at Udasin’s ashram.
Tiwari alleged that Ateeq, Laiq, Salman and other unknown persons attacked Udasin with knives, sharpened weapons and sticks with an intention to kill when Udasin objected to them sprinkling fertilizer on the trees in their ashram, leaving him injured.
In addition to all the sections invoked in the FIR against Udasin, the counter FIR invoked section 307 of the IPC (attempt to murder) against the brothers, and they were booked under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act 1986.
After the altercation with Laiq, Ateeq and Salman in February 2021, in which Udasin said he was injured, he was reportedly provided a gunner for his protection.
On 21 June 2021, the police arrested Ateeq, Laiq and Salman.
Why The Double Standard?
All the sections invoked in the FIR against Udasin are bailable and have a maximum punishment of three years.
However, section 307 of the IPC (attempt to murder) invoked in the FIR against Laiq, Ateeq and Salman is non-bailable and has a maximum punishment of life imprisonment if hurt is caused to a person.
Questioning why Section 307 was not invoked against Udasin, Supreme Court advocate Shahrukh Alam said that in invoking bailable sections in the FIR against him, the police could take cover from Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar (2014)—a Supreme Court judgement that requires police officers and magistrates to practice caution before arrest and detention in cases where the maximum punishment is less than seven years.
Advocate Ateeq Khan, who represents the three brothers, said that a fair investigation was never done against their complaint.
After more than five months in jail, the three brothers were released on bail on 29 November 2021 and are now at an undisclosed location. Alleging threats by Udasin and his men, they said it was impossible for them to go back home.
Having lost their father Rafeeq Khan to hepatitis in 2010, they worry about their mother, Shafiqun Nisha, who lives in their home in Khairabad, next to Udasin’s ashram.
‘My Legs Were Broken. I Could Not Walk For Months’
Alleging that Udasin intended to grab their ancestral land—plot no. 42 and 43 in the Kamal Sarai locality in Khairabad—Laiq recalled the altercation with him and his men on 16 February 2021 and the months of recovery from the grave injuries.
“They started beating us with sticks and other weapons,” he said. “My legs were broken. I could not walk for months. My neck bones were broken. I had 80 stitches on my head.”
Article 14 has seen the medical documents that confirm these injuries.
Udasin was also reportedly injured in the brawl and referred to the trauma centre in Lucknow for treatment. He alleged that the circle officer of Sitapur, Piyush Kumar Singh, plotted his murder.
Laiq said his younger brother, Salman, who has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, sustained head injuries and is suffering from memory loss which is hurting his plan to pursue a master’s degree in agriculture.
Ateeq, the eldest and a father to three children, who received injuries on his head and his hand was broken, said, “When I reached there, Laiq and Salman were lying in dying condition in a pool of blood. Then, Bajrang Muni and his men started thrashing me with sticks in front of the police.”
In a video from when he was being taken to hospital, where he is seen with bandages on his head, legs and hands and is barely able to speak, Ateeq said: “From the time baba (Udasin) has come, he is spreading terror in our locality. Four days ago, he and his 40 men came to our house and abused us despite the fact that we have no dispute with them. Today they had the intention to kill us. They stabbed us with knives in front of the S.I. (sub-inspector) of the police, and they wanted to shoot us. They also snatched my 30,000 rupees.”
Laiq said that all three brothers were moved from one hospital to another in Sitapur and Lucknow for four months, with doctors telling them they had slim chances of surviving.
Laiq said the police tried to arrest him and his brothers while they were injured.
“I could not even walk. People had to lift me on their shoulders to produce me before the magistrate. My condition was so bad that initially, the jail authorities refused to take me in. But later, they took me in, and I was shifted to the jail hospital,” he said.
Land Was Their Only Source Of Income
Then DM Vishal Bharadwaj, Laiq claimed, conducted an investigation after the altercation and found that the land belonged to the three brothers.
Article 14 sought comment from current DM Anuj Singh and will update this copy if he responds.
Article 14 has seen the “bhulekh”, land records, with the names of all three brothers.
Laiq said the land where they grow mango trees is the only source of income for his farming family and not being able to return home has ruined them.
The family had spent Rs 55 lakh on their treatment and Rs 15 lakh in legal cases, according to Ateeq who said, “We are managing to live on loans given by several people including our relatives. We don’t know when we will be able to repay those loans.”
“My Family And My Neighbours Are Living In Fear”
Ateeq said that they had submitted three complaints about Udasin to the police and government officials in the past 16 months.
Article 14 has seen all three complaints.
One letter written by their mother, Shafiqun Nisha, on 13 January 2021, one month before the altercation, was addressed to the DM of Sitapur, the women’s commission in Lucknow, home secretary of the UP government, superintendent of police, Sitapur, SHO of Khairabad police station, governor of UP, and the Chief Minister of UP.
In her letter demanding an FIR be registered against Udasin, Nisha said that Udasin and his mentor Puran Muni abused, threatened to kill, and frame Muslims in fake cases in their locality of Kamal Sarai, and Muslim families are living in fear of them instigating “Hindu Muslim” riots.
Nisha wrote that even though Muslims had nothing to do with the properties of the ashram, Udasin was filing false complaints alleging land grabbing by Muslims, including her family.
“At around 12:30 at night on 9 January 2021, they sent the police to our home after sending fake complaints and pressuring them to arrest my family members. Due to this, my son Laiq suffered a heart attack and is fighting for his life in the district hospital Sitapur,” she wrote. “My family and my neighbours are living in fear due to threats from Bajrang Muni, and if anything happens to us, then Bajrang Muni and Puran Muni will be responsible.”
No FIR was registered.
Former BJP Leader Makes A Complaint
Saket Mishra, a former BJP leader from Sitapur who fought the 2022 UP assembly elections from the Sitapur constituency as an independent candidate, raised allegations of land grabbing by Udasin in a letter dated 16 October 2020—written on a BJP letterhead—addressed to chief minister Adityanath.
Then a member of the state executive body of BJP, Mishra, wrote that he had apprised the district administration on 5 October 2020 that Udasin was grabbing land belonging to Dalits and other backward classes by force, and he had recently grabbed the land of a Dalit man named Sunil Kumar.
Accusing him of creating a “Hindu-Muslim conflict” in the area, Mishra requested the district officials to carry out an “serious investigation” that led to legal action so that the poor farmers could get their land back.
The letter was signed by the principal secretary to the chief minister, Sanjay Prasad, with a small note addressed to the DM and SP of Sitapur, saying, “please conduct an investigation at the district headquarters level, take action and apprise us of the same”.
“Although UP CM’s principal secretary directed the DM and SP of Sitapur to take action, no action was taken against Bajrang Muni,” said Mishra.
Ten days after he wrote to the CM, Mishra’s house was attacked on 15 October 2020. Mishra said that following his complaint in the matter, an FIR was registered by the Sitapur police, where Udasin was named, but no arrest was made.
Alleging that he started receiving threats from Udasin after he complained about him to the CM, Mishra said, “People from the top are saving Bajrang Muni, and hence he gets away with everything.”
Mishra left BJP in February 2022 after falling out with the party when he was not given a ticket to run for the state assembly election.
Mishra said that he got to know about Udasin’s alleged land grabbing activities when people started approaching him during the first wave of Covid-19 in the summer months of 2020. On 12 September 2020, Mishra led a protest outside the Khairabad police station demanding Udasin’s arrest.
“Bajrang Muni grabs lands of Dalits and other poor people through guns and puts up boards on their land, mentioning that this land now belongs to his ashram. Those boards are still there,” said the former BJP leader.
In the case of Laiq, Ateeq and Salman, Mishra said that “Bajrang Muni thrashed them” and “instead of him, those Muslims were sent to jail”.
Mishra said that he would continue speaking out against Udasin.
‘They Tore My Clothes And Ran After Me’
In May 2021, Ateeq’s wife Afsana accused Udasin and his men—Rahul, Pankaj, Rajkumar Lodhi, and Rohit Tiwari—of attempt to rape.
In a complaint letter dated 6 May 2021, addressed to the UP chief minister, inspector general of police, deputy inspector general of police, district magistrate of Sitapur, additional district magistrate of Sitapur, station house officer of Khairabad police station, and the SP of Sitapur, Afsana said that earlier that day she and her mother-in-law were on their land in Khairabad when Udasin and his men came with weapons and told them to vacate or they would thrash them like they thrashed her husband and his brothers who were in the hospital at the time.
“When I told them this is my ancestral property, they grabbed me, and with the wrong intention, they tore my clothes and ran after me to do something wrong to me. They said the police could do nothing and threatened me to compromise on the FIR we filed against them, or they would send me to jail or kill me. When I went to the (Khairabad) police station to file a complaint on the same day, they advised me not to speak up and sent me away,” Afsana said in the letter, demanding an FIR be registered in the case.
No FIR was registered.
Khairabad Police Station Dismisses Complaint
On 5 May 2022, more than five months after her three sons were released on bail, their mother Nisha submitted another letter to the Sitapur DM, saying they were not able to return to their home since the altercation on 16 February because Udasin says they will be framed in fake cases if they return, and when she goes to the Khairabad police station for help, they appear to afraid of him.
Pleading that the inspector in charge of the Khairabad police station is directed to provide security, Nisha wrote, “If my sons are not allowed to return to their ancestral home situated in Khairabad due to pressure by Bajrang Muni, then I will be forced to publicly self-immolate myself along with my children in front of the DM office.”
Nisha told Article 14 that the DM received her complaint and assured her that he would direct the police to provide her family security.
On 10 May 2022, five days after the DM directed the Khairabad police to conduct an investigation on Nisha’s complaint, sub-inspector Sanjay Singh replied to the DM that he conducted an investigation and found that the allegations levelled by Nisha in her complaint letter were not proven.
“The land dispute between the applicant Shafiqun Nisha and the opponent Bajrang Muni has been going on for a year, during which both sides have been submitting complaint letters against each other. This includes the applicant’s sons Laiq, Ateeq and Salman attacking Bajrang Muni for which they were arrested on 21 June 2021 on the basis of collected evidence, and now they are out on bail as per the honourable court’s order. Nobody is stopping the applicant’s sons from living in their home. The applicant has exaggerated her allegations and submitted this letter,” Singh wrote.
At the time of publication, Ateeq, Laiq and Salman were living about 100 km from home, hoping to return and take care of their beloved mango trees someday.
This article first appeared on article-14.com