KHARGONE: In a dilapidated, unplastered house, the family of Shama and parents-in-law are sobbing profusely. Her five kids, four of whom cannot hear or speak, unable to grapple the gravity of the situation staring blankly.

The only breadwinner of the family and husband of Shama, Abdulla, is behind bars for the last four months. He was arrested after communal clashes were organised in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, on April 10 during Ram Navami celebrations.

Shama has five kids aged between nine and two. Four of them are hearing and speech impaired and suffering from other medical conditions. Her aged in-laws are also seeking treatment for age related ills. Their son's arrest after two days on the 12th night has put the family in dire financial straits, not to speak of the mental trauma of losing his care.

They are having a difficult time due to the abrupt loss of income after police arrested Abdulla. Medical treatments for the kids have had to be discontinued to fight the legal battle.

"For the last four months we are waiting for his release. He has been arrested on trumped up charges just because he happened to be a Muslim," says his wife Shama, gesturing to her kids that he would be back soon.

Communal tensions with the most disturbing violence took place in various parts of Madhya Pradesh, Karauli in Rajasthan and Jahangirpuri in Delhi. In MP, communal violence was reported from Khargone, Sendhwa and Kukdol.

This year the Ram Navami celebration coincided with the final days of Ramzan. And after two years of Covid-induced disruption, families in Khargone were gearing up for the celebrations with much fanfare.

The first procession on April 10 was wrapped up without any stray incidents. When the second procession reached the Talab Chowk area the tensions began. A second procession, held by various right wing organizations and with outside support, reportedly played loud music in front of the Talab Chowk Masjid to which Muslims objected.

Begun as a verbal brawl and sloganeering, later it worsened to stone pelting and arson. Although allegations and counter allegations fly thick and high about who triggered violence, the police are pinning all the blame on Muslims, as evident from the FIRs.

A five-member fact-finding committee, with four members from the Communist parties and one from the Rashtriya Janata Dal highlighted the role of the right wing organizations in the violence. It indicts the police for abetting the breakdown of law and order by playing spectator and doing nothing.

The violence included stone pelting, arson and pillage of properties. From 5 in the evening till midnight miscreants had a free run of the streets. The violence claimed the life of one Muslim youth and financial devastation running into crores.

Ibriz was manhandled to death and a few right wing activists have been arrested for the murder. Police discreetly moved his body to Indore and kept it there for seven days, before finally releasing it to the family. "Apathy of the police to curb the rioters worsened the situation. Instead of ensuring justice, they keep on intimidating us," said Mushthaq, a social activist from the area.

The police in this BJP governed state have so far arrested around 180 people in connection with the violence, the majority of them Muslims.

"Arrest started from that day itself and it still goes on," said Thauseef, a local Muslim leader. A few were arrested at midnight and all norms were flouted, he claimed.

Then on the 12th the bulldozers came and around 40 structures were demolished by police in Khargone alone. Claiming illegal encroachment, the cops rushed in without allowing the residents to shift their belongings.

"The demolition was targeted and in violation of rule of law. State machinery acted with impunity to reduce the structures of the accused to rubble," states the fact-finding report. It adds that police hushed up the body of Ibriz to facilitate the demolition.

Abdulla's family said he was selling vegetables at a place a couple of kilometers away from the riot spot. "He would bring vegetables from the mandi and sell them to local people. On that day too, he was away to earn three square meals for his family," his mother told this reporter. She challenged the police to show the video that they say places him among the rioters.

His father who would help his son sell the vegetables to households is at a loss for words. "My son was everything for us. He toiled hard to make us happy. I can't directly go and procure vegetables from the mandi. My frail health can only hope for his early return."

They said he was arrested at midnight and the police roughed him up in front of the family. "The children were so scared to see their Abbu taken away. Since then they are always gesturing to me to see him," says Shama. She says he would always take good care of them with whatever he could afford, but now they have been denied the merriness of seeing their Abbu.

"My four kids are deaf and mute, besides other medical conditions. They need good treatment and paternal care. How can I ensure these when the sole income earning person is behind bars? I am struggling to convince them that Abbu will come back soon," said Shama.

According to the FIR, Abdulla has been charged with IPC 427 (damage to property), IPC 380 (theft), IPC 395 (punishment for dacoity), and IPC 436 (mischief by fire). Stiff opposition by the police to allow bail, has resulted in denial of bail in the lower courts.

The additional burden of funding the legal battle has exhausted the paltry savings of the family. "How can I support the fees of an advocate in the High Court when I can't even provide food to the kids? Police are trying all their best to scuttle justice," said Abdulla's father.

Currently his bail application is with the Madhya Pradesh High Court. While his fight for bail is denied at every turn, the wellbeing of his physically challenged kids is at stake.

Photographs Shahzeen Khan