New Delhi, India – Ayesha is seven months pregnant and has been inconsolable for four days now.
The 29-year-old has been oblivious to her own wellbeing and has stopped eating properly as she grieves the loss of her husband, Nurul Hassan, who was killed after a Hindu mob attacked a mosque in Pusesavali village in Maharashtra’s Satara district.
“My entire world shattered when I saw my son’s lifeless body on the bed. In that moment, I couldn’t believe what was unfolding before my eyes,” Hassan’s father Mohammad Liyaqat told Al Jazeera over the telephone.
About 8.30pm on September 10, Hassan, a 31-year-old civil engineer, left his home for the Isha prayers at a nearby mosque. His uncle Mohammad Siraj said there were about 15 people in the mosque and the prayers were in progress when they heard commotion outside.
A mob had surrounded the mosque, chanting anti-Muslim slogans and making inflammatory remarks about Islam. “Around 150-200 Hindu men gathered outside the masjid and started throwing stones, damaging some parked vehicles,” he said.
A witness wishing anonymity told Al Jazeera the mob broke the mosque’s door and barged into it.
“They carried sharp weapons, iron rods, small pieces of granite and batons. As soon as they entered, they began assaulting everyone present. Hassan was hit on his head with an iron rod multiple times, causing him to collapse in a pool of blood. He was already dead when we lifted him from the spot,” he said, adding that at least 14 other people suffered injuries.
The witness further described how the mob set fire to a nearby shop and vandalised several vehicles and handcarts bearing Muslim names. “They destroyed all the lights in the masjid, burned the Quran and other religious books, and appeared intent on killing all of us,” he told Al Jazeera.
Siraj said someone from the village alerted the police post nearby and it was due to their intervention that the mob left the scene. While leaving, the mob smashed windows of vehicles parked outside another mosque in the village and made derogatory comments about Muslim women, he said.
“The police took him [Hassan] to a health centre where he was declared dead. He was later shifted to Satara District Hospital for further investigation,” he said. Hassan’s hand was fractured and he sustained severe head, neck and chest injuries, resulting in his immediate death.
What led to the incident
According to Siraj, it started with a Hindu man allegedly hacking into the Instagram account of a Muslim minor and posting “objectionable content” against Chhatrapati Shivaji, a revered 17th-century Hindu king who fought the Mughals.
The post went viral and triggered tensions between Muslims and Hindus in the area. Following an investigation, the police confirmed the post was not made by the Muslim boy and detained the accused, identified as Amar Arjun Shinde.
A police officer from Satara, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed Shinde’s arrest to Al Jazeera.
“A juvenile boy was in contact with a girl on Instagram, who also happened to be his classmate. Amar, who was an online friend of this girl, engaged in a hateful rivalry with the Muslim boy. In an attempt to sow discord within the community, Amar hacked the Muslim boy’s account and posted derogatory comments about Shivaji Maharaj,” he said.
The police officer said another objectionable social media post on Shivaji went viral in the area on September 10. “We became aware of the post immediately and initiated an investigation. We were still in the process of investigating the matter and had summoned two men in the matter when the mob attacked the mosque that evening, which led to the death of a young man,” he told Al Jazeera.
The officer said at least 10 policemen also sustained injuries in their efforts to control the situation. “Internet services were promptly suspended and additional deployments were made to maintain law and order,” he said, adding that three separate first information reports (FIRs) have been filed in the matter.
“So far, we have arrested 35 people and the investigation is still ongoing,” the officer said. He said he could not disclose the findings of Hassan’s autopsy report until the investigation was on.
Meanwhile, Hassan’s family is in a state of shock. Hassan’s soft-spoken father works as a teacher at a local religious school and his mother is a retired nurse from a government hospital.
Hassan had married Ayesha in November last year. “Our life is nothing without him. He was our only hope … Now, who do we have besides Allah?” Liyaqat told Al Jazeera.
A few months ago, Hassan, who worked as a civil engineer, had bought a bulldozer to rent it out for construction work and increase his income.
“He had taken loans to purchase the bulldozer and had been solely dependent on it for his livelihood. Now, the weight of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of his elderly father and his pregnant wife,” Siraj said.
“He was a kind and straightforward man. Even his non-Muslim neighbours are mourning his death.”
The family is left pondering why Hassan was killed.
“In all the cases of lynchings so far, with no significant strict legal actions taken, it seems as though they [perpetrators] are being protected, which only compounds our distress,” Siraj, a retired army officer, said.
According to Siraj, the attack on the village was planned by Hindu groups that had been allegedly waiting for an opportunity to target Muslims ever since it became known that the post against Shivaji was, in reality, posted by a Hindu boy.
“They had been preparing to attack us for the past 10-15 days. We hold immense respect for Shivaji Maharaj, and there is no reason for us to make any derogatory post about him,” he said.
“They assaulted us in the darkness and had intentions of setting fire to Muslim homes and the mosque, but fortunately, they were unsuccessful,” a local community member told Al Jazeera over the telephone.
Mohammad Aslam Gazi, president of the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights group, said over the past couple of months, the Kolhapur region in Maharashtra saw a surge in attacks on Muslims perpetrated by certain Hindu groups.
“These incidents appear to be well-planned and orchestrated by some hate mongers, likely due to the upcoming elections, as they aim to secure votes along communal lines,” he told Al Jazeera.
The Kerala Story is a controversial Hindi film that claimed – without evidence – that Hindu and Christian women were “trapped and trafficked for terror” by the ISIL (ISIS) group.
Back at Hassan’s home, Ayesha is numb as she mourns his death.
“Before he left for the mosque, she had told him to have dinner first. But Hassan assured her he would be back within 20 minutes and they will eat together,” Liyaqat told Al Jazeera.
“He never returned.”