Tasleem Ali, a 25-year-old bangle seller in Madhya Pradesh's Indore, was the victim of a brutal mob attack on Sunday that was caught on camera. Reports said he was attacked for giving a fake name to pass off as a Hindu. But over 24 hours later, Tasleem became the accused, charged in an FIR with molesting a 13-year-old.
He faces charges under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Madhya Pradesh government has defended the case against him.
The FIR (First Information Report) accessed by NDTV, however, raises serious questions about the charges and the role of the police and administration.
According to the FIR, the girl told the police she did not report the crime for over 28 hours out of "Lok Laaj (public shame)". However, her version matches that of state Home Minister Narottam Mishra, who spoke seven hours before she went to the police.
The girl said that on Sunday (August 22) she was at her home with her mother at around 2 PM when the man arrived to sell bangles. The FIR mentions that she went to the police at 5.49 PM on Monday (August 23).
But those in the administration and the police were apparently aware of the complaint - as is evident from a statement given by the minister to the media at around 11 AM.
"This man was selling bangles after concealing his name, his caste, his father's name and his religion. I have been told by the administration that he had two Aadhar cards and while selling bangles he misbehaved, which led to his beating," the minister had told reporters.
In another anomaly, the girl told the police her father had gone to the market when the incident happened. Yet in a statement around noon on Monday, Indore Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Bagri claimed that three persons who assaulted the bangle seller were identified from the video of the incident and two of them had been rounded up. One of them is the girl's father.
An FIR was also registered on the complaint of Tasleem after midnight on Monday, a day after he was beaten. This, even though he went to the police station immediately after the incident on Sunday and two policemen accompanied him to the spot where he was thrashed.
Indore Police is at a loss to explain why Tasleem's complaint was not registered when he had first approached the cops on Sunday.
The police, it appears, acted only after the assault video went viral and thousands gathered outside the city police headquarters demanding action.
This also raises questions over whether a person beaten up for molesting a minor would go to the police station to file his complaint rather than avoid the police.
In the viral video, the assailants can be heard saying "slap him (Tasleem) at least once" to "avenge Bombay Bazaar". (On August 13, two minor girls of the Valmiki community were allegedly molested and their uncle was allegedly thrashed in the Muslim-dominated Bombay Bazaar area)
This raises another question - why the attackers mentioned a 10-day-old incident as provocation instead of something that had just happened.
NDTV reached out to the state Home Minister twice but he refused to comment. Attempts to get comments from police officers Harinarayanchari Mishra and Ashutosh Bagri also did not draw any response.