Once infamous for dreaded dacoits, the Bhind city of Madhya Pradesh was on the verge of communal riot on August 3, 2022 over a fake video and a morphed voter ID card.
Fuelled by misinformation, a mob of over 5,000 men led by Shree Rajput Karni Sena took to the streets. Amid vapid sloganeering, the mob demanded to demolish the home of one Taufeeq Khan (38) for converting and looting a Hindu woman Nandini Tomar (35) on the pretext of love. They alleged that Nanidini's suicide was abetted by Taufeeq, who, they said, had also conned several other women across the country.
Several cases, investigations and arrests later, it was found that the group that led the protests mistook someone else for Nandini Tomar. The case that was initially one of suicide because of debt took a communal hue and pushed the city into a state of violence, all because of a morphed video.
The Story Of Nandini And Taufeeq
Nandini, a 35-year-old woman, was found dead in her house on June 5, 2022. It was in 2007 that Nandini had separated from her husband Akhilesh Parihar and started living in the government quarter at Mahaveer Ganj locality in Bhind with her disabled daughter.
Nandini worked as a fourth grade employee at the Bhind Municipal Council. She got the job in 2013 after her father's demise.
While living alone in the city, Nandini developed a relationship with a man named Taufeeq Khan, who lives across the street.
Taufeeq, an office bearer of BJP's district minority wing, runs a popular gym in the city. His friends and neighbours claim he supported Nandini and her daughter in times of need.
The autopsy report reveals her cause of death as asphyxiation due to antemortem hanging. The police say that she died by suicide after facing severe debt and financial pressure. Nandini's family agreed with the police statement.
A case of unnatural death was registered at Bhind's Kotwali police station for further investigation the following day.
Two months after Nandini's death, on July 24, 2022, on the complaint of her uncle Dharmendra Singh Tomar and testimony of her sister Madhulika Tomar (40) and others, Bhind police lodged an FIR against Taufeeq at Kotwali police station under section 306 (Abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.
The FIR says that Nandini had lent money to accused Taufeeq for opening a gym. When he did not return the money, Nandini got trapped in debt, leading her to ultimately take her own life.
"The autopsy report says she died with asphyxia due to antemortem hanging. After investigation, it came to light that Nandini was under depression owing to the money she lent to her friend Taufeeq which became the cause of her death," Jitendra Singh Mawai, Town Inspector of Kotwali police station told BOOM.
Two days after the FIR was filed and the police had not arrested Taufeeq yet, a doctored video and morphed voter card ID cropped up on social media with vile allegations and abusive comments. As the social media posts went viral, the buzz of "Love Jihad" started growing louder in the city.
On July 30, 2022, the Madhya Pradesh wing of Shree Rajput Karni Sena, a right-wing group, issued a statement addressing Bhind superintendent of police, demanding immediate arrest of the accused Taufeeq.
In a statement, Karni Sena accused Taufeeq for alluring Nandini in a "love trap", converting her to Islam, pushing her to invest in his gym and ultimately killing her when she demanded to marry and return the money. They threatened to protest if demands were not met.
The following day, the police arrested Taufeeq and sealed his gym. They later issued a public statement to defuse the situation regarding Taufeeq's arrest and said that he has been sent to jail.
But that's not how the story ends. A morphed video that claimed to be that of Nandini's went viral along with several other fake posts. The story took a communal turn, leading to several protests and outbursts on and off social media.
A Fake Video Emerged…
Two months after Nandini's death, a video that was circulated as her last testimony went viral.
In an Instagram live, a woman shares her ordeals with a social media influencer Bobby Katariya, where she accused her husband of conning over 15 women. She alleges that her husband marries them and dumps each of them within six months. The woman also alleges that her husband films intimate scenes with the women and uses them for blackmails. But, she says that the police are not acting on her complaint.
The video does not mention either of the names— Nandini or Taufeeq.
The 2.24 minute long video was circulated as Nandini's testimony— enraging many social media users leading to a protesting mob of thousands. A morphed voter ID card went viral too, soon after. The voter ID bears Nandini's photo with the name Joya and it mentions her husband's name as Taufeeq Khan reinforcing right-wing groups' belief that this is a case of "Love Jihad".
Many WhatsApp forwards and Facebook posts surfaced in support of Nandini, appealing to people to assemble at Bhind's Dhanwadi Complex at 11 am on August 3 to demand justice for her by ensuring "harshest punishment" for Taufeeq.
As the morphed video started reaching more people, many started sharing Taufeeq's photo as their WhatsApp status with abusive texts such as, "Taufeeq Khan teri Maa ki ***, Bhaukaal ki istithi paida kardi madar*** ne."
The woman in the video was Girja Ojha, who was speaking about her husband Mitul Joshi, the police later clarified.
"A morphed video of Girja Ojha (32) in which she can be seen speaking with a social media influencer about her husband Mitul Joshi was shared on social media as Nandini's last testimony about Taufeeq. It's not an original one but added with a false voiceover which was deliberately shared to create unrest in the city," said Poonam Thapa, DSP Bhind in a media statement issued hours after the rally.
"Both are separate cases," she further clarified.
Elaborating further, the DSP said that Nandini had died by suicide on June 5 while Girja has filed a complaint against her husband a month ago.
"Girja's social media video was used with a fake voiceover to look like Nandini's last video which created a mayhem in the city," she said in the video statement.
… And Then It Led To Protests
Even though section 144 of CrPC was invoked in Bhind, a mob of over 5,000 men, headed by Karni Sena, assembled there. They continued violent sloganeering for the next three hours, putting the city on the edge of a communal frenzy.
Some videos of the protest show a handful of youth sloganeering meters away from a mosque near Nayapura in a bid to provoke the Muslim community.
"A few protestors tried to enter in a Muslim dominated Nayapura locality; they were forcefully stopped by the police. The police's promptness averted an untoward incident that day," a local journalist told BOOM, requesting anonymity.
The mob demanded the police to invoke murder and abetment to suicide charges against Taufeeq. They demanded that his house be demolished and his sister be sacked from her government job.
They accused DSP Poonam Thapa, the investigating officer in Nandini's suicide case of laxity and urged the police to dig deeper into Taufeeq's WhatsApp messages and call details for establishing a case against against him for conning 15 other women.
Their protest culminated at the district collector's office in Bhind after the outfit issued a statement.
In a written appeal to the district collector, the Samast Hindu Samaj Sanghatan, a right-wing outfit stated that besides Nandini Tomar, Taufeeq Khan has conned several women in other cities, converting them to Islam religion on the pretext of marriage.
All the "information" in their statement seemed to have been backed by the viral video they had watched.
"Following his usual modus operandi, he also fooled Nandini and took away her savings which she had gotten after her father's demise being a government employee. After performing 'nikah' with Nandini, he murdered her," the statement read.
"I Want Justice"
Nandini's sister Madhulika believes that the police are not doing enough in her sister's case because the accused Taufeeq has connections with the ruling BJP.
"Nandini's call record and messages proves that they were in a relationship and Taufeeq tricked her to invest over Rs 10 lakh in his gym. But the police are not adding stringent sections including section 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the IPC. They are trying to save him," she told BOOM.
"I believe that Taufeeq is the reason for my sister's death and I want justice," she added.
When asked about the protests carried out in support of Nandini, she said, "A few people are trying to paint a communal picture of this case and creating unrest in the city. But my fight is for justice not against anyone's religion. If the accused would belong to the Hindu community, I would fight for justice with the same passion."
A close friend of Taufeeq, believes that he is "paying the price" for supporting a divorced woman who was disowned by her own family.
"I have family relations with Taufeeq. We have been friends since childhood, he is kind and soft spoken and supported Nandini when she was struggling to manage her job and her handicape daughter alone," he told BOOM.
The 35-year-old said that has been hounded by his own community for supporting Taufeeq and often termed "anti-Hindu" by his close friends.
After a rift with Nandini weeks before her suicide, Taufeeq had stopped speaking to her even though she was calling him incessantly, he said. "The end of the friendship with him put Nandini under a lot of pressure as well," he said.
When asked about the allegations of Nandini being duped by Taufeeq and taking money from her for his gym, he said, "Before Nandini's death, they held two meetings at her home in the presence of her uncle Dharmendra Singh Tomar to resolve the issue of debt but in vain."
The Arrests Over Fake Videos
Following the protests, the police lodged two FIRs. "Seven people were named for sharing morphed video and another 13 for carrying out a rally without permission and for violating section 144 of CrPc," Shailendra Chouhan, SP Bhind told BOOM.
The police said that they booked seven men including members of Karni Sena for circulating morphed video of Girja Ojha, the woman who went viral as Nandini. "The morphed video created a law and order situation in the city," reads the FIR.
The men were booked under sections 500 (Defamation), 504 (intentionally insults, and thereby gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause him to break the public peace) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC along with section 66 C and 66 D of IT Act, 2000 for morphing the video and circulating on social media.
Bhind police also issued a press notice clarifying that the viral video of the woman in conversation with Bobby Katariya is morphed.
"I would urge people to not trust this video which is being circulated by youngsters. The woman in the video is not Nandini Tomar but Girja Ojha whose case is under investigation," said Thapa in a video statement issued hours after the protest.
When asked about the "Love Jihad" message that the morphed video was being circulated with, the DSP said, "There are some anti-social elements that club some issues with caste and religion to turn them big. These videos are being circulated by such people but it is not even remotely associated with the truth."
Santosh Bhadoriya, Vice President of Karni Sena in Madhya Pradesh told BOOM that Nandini's sister had gone to them, seeking help. "Subsequently, police arrested Taufeeq a day after we issued a memorandum demanding his arrest on July 30," he said.
When asked about the fake video and morphed voter ID card, he said, "Videos were posted by locals on social media which triggered controversy in the city." "Hours after the rally, police revealed that the video was fake and the voter ID card was morphed. They booked four Karni Sena members in two separate FIRs," he added.
A lower court denied Taufeeq's bail application on August 12, saying that his release may create unrest in the city.