In a massive crackdown on the menace of doxxing, assault and targeted harassment of Hindu-Muslim couples in the name of combating ‘Bhagwa love trap’, the Gujarat police have apprehended a total of 17 people from Vadodara for using WhatsApp to coordinate the attacks.
While 8 of them were arrested, the remaining 9 accused were kept under detention by the Vadodara police. They were identified as Aquib Ali Mehboob Saiyyed, Mohsin Pathan, Noman Abdul Rashid, Abrar Khan Sindhi, Moin Ibrahim Shaikh, Mustakim Sheikh, Burhan Saiyad and Sahil Sheikh.
Besides, 73 suspects were also questioned by the police. The first breakthrough in the case came on August 28, 2023, three days after a disturbing video of moral policing, harassment and assault on a Muslim woman from Vadodara went viral on social media.
Ahmedabad: A Muslim woman’s burqa was forcefully removed by a Muslim mob, only because she was with a Hindu boy.
Imagine the outcry from liberals if this had been perpetrated by any other community. pic.twitter.com/5fr4cTtv3b
— Hate Tracker (@HatetrackIN) August 29, 2023
Although it was initially claimed that the video was from Ahmedabad, the Gujarat police determined that the location of the video was Vadodara. The cops were able to ascertain the identity of the three accused, namely, Mustakim Sheikh, Burhan Saiyad and Sahil Sheikh.
During their interrogation, it came to light that the trio operated a WhatsApp group by the name of ‘Hussaini Lashkar.’ It came into existence in February this year and had 500 members. Later, they deleted the group and created a new one by the name of ‘Army of Mahdi.
After having realised that the police were investigating them, the accused created yet another WhatsApp group named Lashkar-E-Adam. It had around 276 members. Police Commissioner Anupamsingh Gahlaut informed, “We found that the accused created and deleted WhatsApp groups to evade law.”
The arrest of the three masterminds (Mustakim Sheikh, Burhan Saiyad and Sahil Sheikh) of the vigilante surveillance led to 5 more arrests and the detention of 9 other accused.
Through these WhatsApp groups, the members (Muslim men) kept a vigil on the women of their community. They also prevented Muslim women from hanging out with men from other communities (especially the Hindu Faith) through coercion, moral policing and real-life attacks
It has now come to light that more than 50 inter-faith couples have been victimised by the extremists running the WhatsApp group. The network of these Islamists was not just limited to Vadodara but spread across other cities of Gujarat.
As part of their modus operandi, the members of the Whatsapp groups would forge alliances with Muslim street food vendors such as ice-cream sellers and falooda walas. The latter would tip them on spotting Muslim women with men from another religion.
“They would click photographs of the vehicles and use the RTO application of Google Play to identify vehicle owners…pass on information to the next person on the route, who would accost them and assault the person from another religion. Most of their conversations are in audio recordings, urging the other person to arrest the ‘culprit’,” Police Commissioner Anupamsingh Gahlaut told The Indian Express.
The pictures of the Muslim women accompanying Hindu men were also sent to the parents of such women by the Islamists. The modus operandi is documented previously through viral videos. Islamists would often gherao a Muslims woman and force her to let them speak either to her parents or family members if found in the company of a Hindu man.
All accused had specific roles in moral policing
As per a report by DeshGujarat, some of the accused arrested by the Vadodara police had specific roles in the vigilante operation. Aqib Ali Saiyed, for instance, chased the Hindu-Muslim couples and posted audio messages in the group regarding their location.
He would also capture their videos and update other members of the WhatsApp group. Another accused named Mohsin Pathan was a medical representative who would ask members of his group to check I-cards of the couples.
Two other accused Noman Abdul Rashid and Abrar Khan Sindhi used to call Muslim mobs on the spot to harass couples. Abrar would capture the videos of the assault and moral policing. These videos were later circulated on social media with highly provocative messages.
“They would make videos viral and attempt to create communal discord. The videos of assault were shared on groups of other districts too with provocative captions… They also have channels on YouTube and X that the cyber crime cell will probe,” Police Commissioner Anupamsingh Gahlaut said.
Opindia undercover investigation and revelations
On August 16 this year, Opindia published an 1800-word report, highlighting how Islamists were actively using WhatsApp to radicalise and provoke their co-religionists to identify and harass inter-faith couples.
With the help of high-placed sources, we were able to infiltrate a Maharashtra-based group named ‘Behen Beti Bachao.’ It was operating in a manner similar to the ‘Hussaini Lashkar’ group, which has now been busted in Vadodara.
The group had four admins, namely, Ilyas Memon, Raees Shaikh, Farhat Shaikh and Husain Khan, and over 150 members (including two Pakistanis, as evident from +92 phone numbers).
Several Islamists, who are part of the ‘Behen Beti Bachao’ group, regularly shared inciteful, Hinduphobic propaganda content and encouraged their co-religionists to target Hindu men for befriending Muslim women.
They also shared misleading videos and falsely attributed them to the Hindu community. Opindia reported the antecedents of one such member, named Salman Khan, who was at the forefront of such propaganda.
Khan also shared information about how radical Islamists are training Muslim women to carry out vigilance in Jaipur city of Rajasthan. He urged his fellow co-religionists to create similar women-led groups in other parts of India and continue to propagate the ‘Bhagwa Love Trap’ conspiracy theory.
Salman Khan encouraged other Islamists in the group to carry out such attacks against Hindu-Muslim couples, wherever possible.
He was not alone in posting inciteful content. Another member of the ‘Behen Beti Bachao’ Whatsapp group, identified as Sharif Tamboli, had also weaponised fake news and called for vigilante surveillance.
Islamists also use the ‘Behan Beti Bachao’ group to falsely attribute unverified, random videos of gore and violence to Hindus. One member of the Whatsapp group named Iqbal shared a graphic video of a murder and claimed that the victim was a Muslim and that the perpetrator was a Hindu.
This is a part of their larger conspiracy to use such videos as an excuse to orchestrate violence against the Hindu community.
Opindia investigation reveals that ‘Behan Beti Bachao’ group of Maharashtra operated in a similar fashion to the ‘Hussaini Lashkar’ group of Vadodara when it came to doxxing of Hindu-Muslim couples. They also sought information on such inter-faith couples and later used it to carry out a witch-hunt.
The contentious content of the group frequently made it to social media for wider dissemination and amplification.
.@MPPoliceDeptt This extremist is running a vigilante campaign on social media against this inter-faith couple, who supposedly eloped from their home.
— Dibakar Dutta (দিবাকর দত্ত) (@dibakardutta_) May 26, 2023
While quoting our source, Opindia reported on August 16, “Personal information about Hindu-Muslim couples shared in groups such as Behen Beti Bachao are sent by the admins to their ‘Strike Teams.’ They carry out a recce of the targets, locate their whereabouts and ambush them in a coordinated fashion.”
Opindia found that the Islamists frequently shared pictures of Muslim women, who were to be married to their Hindu partners, in the ‘Behen Beti Bachao’ group and asked the group members to notify their parents in Jabalpur.
This was also observed in the case of the ‘Hussain Laskar’ group, wherein pictures were sent to the parents of Muslim women. Thus, the vicious modus operandi was highlighted by Opindia (in the case of Maharashtra-based Behan Beti Bachao group), 12 days before the Vadodara police acted against a similar group operating in the city.