On July 2, 20-year-old Muneefa* (name changed) was returning to her residence in Coimbatore, when she was subjected to a horrifying episode of moral policing. The Literature graduate had just received her transfer certificate from a local college and was riding on a bike with her boyfriend Raja* (name changed), while another male friend accompanied the duo. They were merely minutes from her house when two unidentified men approached her on a Royal Enfield bike.
They blocked the bike Muneefa was travelling on, took a look at her purdah and asked if she was a Muslim. An affirmative from the young woman was all the men needed to launch into an unwarranted and indecent attack against her.
"Do you not have brains?" the men allegedly asked Muneefa, according to her complaint to the Kulithalai police station. "They then came to hit me but the area soon got crowded and so they told me to go home alone," she adds.
Hoping that the worst was behind her, Muneefa walked home quickly to what she hoped was safety. But the nightmare only continued. Following her to the house were her boyfriend, friend, two Muslim men from her neighbourhood and two other unknown men.
In her FIR, Muneefa identified the two known men from a nearby shop as Saifullah and Saiet. She alleges that they began to torture the trio at 5.30 pm and only let them go at 9 pm.
"They asked me if I was a Muslim woman and then abused me with unmentionable words. They then abused Raja with words I can't repeat and have not heard before. They then beat up Raja and his friend and slapped their faces. They kept asking if I was in love with Raja and spoke derogatorily to me. They even took Raja's phone and spoke vulgarly about the photos of his female friends in it," she says in the complaint.
But even as the victims stood helplessly, the attackers escalated the abuse by taking turns to beat Raja with a belt, says the complainant. They then allegedly showed him a knife and threatened to kill him. The attack ended in three and a half hours; it took a week for Muneefa to gather the courage to file a police complaint.
"The incident really scared me and that is why I couldn't come to the police station. They have Raja's cellphone and were threatening me with it," she says in the complaint filed on July 9.
When TNM contacted Coimbatore city commissioner Sumith Sharan however, he denied that it was a case of moral policing and stated that the victim knew the attackers. "How is it a case of moral policing when a Muslim questions another Muslim?" he asks. "She knew those men. It is an issue regarding some previous problems between them," he adds.
Sources in the local police however confirm that while the Saifullah and Saiet have been arrested, the two men who blocked Muneefa's way are absconding. A case has been registered under sections 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint), 342 (Punishment for wrongful confinement), 294 (b) (sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words), 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons ) and 506 (2) (Punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal code.
*(Names changed to protect identity)