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How a Muslim teen bore the brunt of fake news spread by Hindutva

Hyderabad: On July 7, 17-year-old Mohammad Ashfaq received a voice message on his Instagram profile. It was from an unknown account named @aksharadechamma02.

What followed soon after was the start of an ordeal Aashfaq is still reeling from. Mohammad Ashfaq was accused of posting derogatory comments on Gods and Goddesses of the Kodava community. The lie wreaked havoc the teen is yet to heal from.

The voice message started with abuses accusing Asfhaq of posting “comments about the Kodava community and its goddess Cauvery”. Confused, Ashfaq tried to reason out with the unknown account user saying that he was innocent.

“I told the account user I have no idea what he was talking about. I told him I am not involved in any such activity. After much convincing, that account sent me another voice note. This time he told me to make my Instagram account private and delete all my photos,” Ashfaq told.

The scared teenager quietly complied.

When a section of media it was found that @aksharadechamma02, the account was found to be private with no display picture. It had 0 posts and 39 followers. Yet another game planned planned by Godhi Media to create hate betweeen Hindu -Muslim in fabrcated issue.

On the same evening, a police complaint was lodged against another Instagram account named @ljvbkoggklvy at the Madikeri police station, Kodagu district.

According to members of the Kodava community that lodged the complaint, the account @ljvbkoggklvy wrote derogatory and insulting comments about Goddess Cauvery and Kodava women.

“It all started with an Instagram post by @kodavaholics,” said Musthafa Siddapur, a local reporter, activist, and social worker in Kodagu district.

According to Mustafa, the issue began on June 30 when the page put up a post in which a girl from the Kodava community can be seen shooting a person chanting Tipu Sultan’s name. KODAVAHOLICS is an Instagram page that takes pride in Kodava culture.

One particular account, @ljvbkoggklvy, started posting comments insulting the local Gods and Goddess of Kodagu district as well as making derogatory remarks against Kodava women.

This created an uproar and soon other users started calling out @ljvbkoggklvy for its conduct. It soon gathered momentum and spread across the district.

Members from the Kodagu Samaj Virajpet community filed a police complaint asking the person behind the account to be identified and punished. However, Ashfaq and his family were unaware of these developments.

On July 7, even as Ashfaq made his Instagram account private, a sense of dread plagued him. The teenager was confused as to how his name got dragged into something he had no connection with whatsoever.

Soon after, Ashfaq received a series of phone calls on his mobile. He received calls from unknown numbers, with callers threatening to kill Ashfaq and his family. Some callers also called him a terrorist, and pointed fingers at Islam.

“I laid down on the bed and stared at the ceiling for days,” Ashfaq recalled.

Synuddeen, Ashfaq’s 47-year-old father and his wife grew anxious. After much coaxing, Ashfaq opened up about the voice message and phone calls he had received since the morning of July 7.

Soon, the family started seeing Ashfaq’s photo clubbed with @ljvbkoggklvy’s comments. The compilation was circulated everywhere on social media platforms.

Worried how this could be possible, Synuddeen contacted Mustafa Siddapur. Speaking to Siasat.com, the father said, “I told Mustafa that my son cannot be involved in such things. He has no idea about the history of Kodagu and its Gods and Goddesses, let alone the importance of the Cauvery River. I knew my son was innocent. I just did not know how his name got dragged into this mess.”

Mustafa started investigating the truth behind the photo. His first stop was Facebook. As he searched he came across many accounts that shared the same posts tagging senior police officials, and the Karnataka chief minister to arrest Ashfaq as soon as possible.

Verbal, Islamophobic harassment followed Ashfaq: “There were many comments calling out Ashfaq as a terrorist from ISIS, calling out Islam to be the reason behind this behaviour. Others were saying that Ashfaq will join the Syrian army and that they will finish-off the whole family, and much more,” said Mustafa.

Mustafa said that many were death threats. “There was one such comment that said if 1 or 2 people beat up Ashfaq the police might catch us, but if more than 100 people beat him up, the police cannot do anything. It was upsetting to see a 17-year-old receive so much hate.”

On July 8, Ashfaq and his father decided to lodge a complaint with the cyber police of Madikeri town in Karnataka. Though the police listened to the complaint, they did not register an FIR.

“They took my phone and let us go,” said Ashfaq.

By that time news had spread and more and more people started blaming the family. There were many complaints lodged in different stations of the district asking Ashfaq to be arrested with immediate effect.

“It felt like the whole district was against us. Every Kodava was looking at us from an eye of suspicion,” said Synuddeen.

The next day on July 9, Synuddeen and Ashfaq returned to the police station only to be greeted by a large number of police officials. “From the circle inspector to the superintendent of police, all were present. They told me they wanted to question Ashfaq,” said Synuddeen.

As Ashfaq was being grilled over his alleged involvement in posting derogatory remarks on the Kodava community, right-wing organisations Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Jagran Vedike released a press statement demanding the teenager’s arrest in the next 24 hours. If the arrest did not happen, they threatened to call for a district bandh.

Ashfaq’s inquiry carried on until the wee hours of the night. After many tense hours, the police found no evidence and released Ashfaq.

“There was so much tension in the house. I and my wife were worried about our son, that he should not take any drastic step. I could not sleep thinking about his safety. The whole family was under a lot of trauma and could not celebrate Bakri Eid as well,” said Synuddeen.

Ashfaq v/s the district of Kodagu : The ordeal did not end there. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other right-wing organisations called for protests. They demanded that those who “insulted their Gods should be arrested and terrorist organisations should be banned”.

On July 12, Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai visited the district to give monetary compensation to a family whose house was completely destroyed due to the heavy rains. Kodagu had been witnessing non-stop rains for many days.

Taking this as an opportunity, right-wing organisations visited the CM and submitted a memorandum requesting to arrest Ashfaq as soon as possible.

As days went by, the pressure was building up for the police to arrest Ashfaq. Continuous press meets and social media pleas, mainly on Facebook and Whatsapp, were made to arrest Ashfaq.

“It was like our family versus the entire Kodagu community,” said Synuddeen adding, “When I would go to the market, people would look at me with suspicious eyes or ask me if my son was really involved.”

When asked if there was any help from Muslim organisations, Synuddeen answered in negative. “No one came to help us. We were fighting this battle alone.”

For nearly a week Ashfaq and his family went through extreme mental pressure. The parents were worried about their children’s future. Apart from Ashfaq, they have two daughters -Shabna Shireen, 14, and ten-year-old Shiyana.

The real accused behind the remarks : “I wondered if I had to leave the town where would we go?” Synuddeen said. On July 17, the cyber police of Madikeri had a major breakthrough when they arrested 29-year-old Divin Devaiah, a private employee working in Bengaluru.

“Many papers carried the news. However, they got one thing wrong. It is not a Hindu versus a Muslim story. It is Kodava community versus Muslim story,” pointed Mustafa.

He also said that a strange thing happened once Divin was caught. “Everything came to a sudden stop. The protests by the Hindu groups, the sharing of Ashfaq’s pictures on social media platforms, everything stopped. The police also shut the case,” he added.

While the police were able to connect Divin to the derogatory comments, it is unclear if he was the reason Ashfaq was accused.

Incidentally, Divin is the son of K Ramesh Ponanna, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and a former Agricultural Produce and Livestock Market Committee (APMC) member.

“Ramesh Ponanna is a close aid of BJP MLC Suja Kushalappa,” Mustafa claimed.

There are many questions that have been left unanswered. How did Ashfaq’s picture get viral? Who shared his picture? Why did the police close the case soon after Divin’s arrest? Did Divin and Ashfaq know each other? Was there any sort of connection between the two people?

“We have never seen Divin. No one from our family has ever interacted with their family members,” said Synuddin and Ashfaq.

Though the case has been closed and life is slowly back to normal for Ashfaq, his family has still not healed. “We are ok but we have still not come out from the trauma we suffered,” said Synuddeen who has decided to lodge a complaint with the police regarding this.

Rise of anti-Muslim hate in Karnataka : This is not the first case in the country where a Muslim person is targeted through social media. On March 25 this year, a 31-year-old Hindu man was arrested for posing as a Muslim on Facebook. He used the name Mushtaq Ali and threatened BJP MLC D S Arun, son of former chairman of the state legislative council D H Shankarmurthy.

Karnataka has witnessed a searing increase in hate crimes and atrocities against minorities, especially after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in the state. According to recent reports, Dakshina Kannada has become a breeding ground for violence against minorities.

“Shivamogga and Kodagu districts have long favored a BJP rule,” claimed Mohammed Irshad, a local journalist from the state.

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