Eighteen-year-old Adnan Mansoori from Ujjain was granted bail on December 15, 2023, after spending over five months in jail in a case registered against him for allegedly spitting on participants in a Hindu religious procession in July 2023. The bail order came after the complainant and eye witness in his case retracted their initial statement based on which the FIR had been filed. Complainant Sawan Lot submitted a written testimony in October 2023 where he denied his words which were mentioned in the FIR and said that the ‘police asked him to sign the papers which he didn’t even write‘. Mansoori’s bail came two months after the two other accused, both minors, had been released from juvenile detention on bail.

While granting bail to Mansoori, Justice Anil Verma of the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court noted that the “complainant has been examined before the trial court but he has turned hostile and did not support the case of the prosecution and he also denied his relevant portion of his FIR. Eyewitness also turned hostile and did not support the prosecution’s case.”

However, the lives of the three Muslim teens were, by then, torn asunder.

The Arrest

Three Muslim youths including two minors — 18-year-old Adnan Mansoori, his 13-year-old brother and a 15-year-old friend — were accused of spitting mouthfuls of water on devotees attending the Baba Mahakal procession in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, on July 17, 2023. An FIR was registered in the matter based on a complaint by a local man named Sawan Lot. In his complaint, he mentioned that he had seen the three boys spitting and it hurt his religious sentiments.

A video shot by Lot went viral and was plugged by several media outlets when reporting on this incident. However, the video does not show the boys spitting. On social media, the video was shared with captions like “Spit Jihad”, and users urged the Madhya Pradesh government to “take bulldozer action to teach the ‘adharmis’ a strong lesson”.

Acting on the FIR, Ujjain police detained the three under Sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 153A (offence committed in place of worship), 296 (disturbing religious assembly) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC. The two minors were sent to juvenile detention while Adnan, who had turned 18 a few months before the incident, was arrested.

Bulldozer ‘Justice’ Dished out to the Beating of Drums

A day after the three boys were detained on a case registered based solely on eyewitness accounts, the municipal authorities on July 19, 2023, assembled near Adnan Mansoori’s house to bulldoze an ‘illegal’ part of the building. In a bizarre move, the authorities marched to the house blasting DJ Music and dhols (drums). The authorities also arranged loudspeakers on autorickshaws where they publicly announced the names of the three boys, which included the two minors. The entire operation was carried out in heavy police presence.

The Times of India reported that civic officials had refused to give details of the alleged irregularities found in the building, but said that notices had been issued to the residents well in advance. However, according to a report in Scroll, officials of the municipal corporation of Ujjain pasted an eviction notice dated July 18 on the gate of the three-storeyed house on July 19 — the day of the demolition — declaring that Mansoori’s home was a “dangerous building”.

ASP Akash Bhuriya, who was present at the demolition scene, told the media that after the three boys were detained, their details were given to the municipal corporation and the revenue department. It was found in the records that a part of Adnan’s father Ashraf Mansoori’s house was illegal, and hence, they razed down a part of it.

The Flip-flop by Complainant, ‘Eyewitness’

The Quint reported, “The complainant Sawan Lot – along with his friends Yogesh Bagmar and Ajay Khatri – verbally reported to the police that the procession was crossing Tanki Chowk when they saw three unknown boys ‘spitting’ on the devotees.

Lot told The Quint: “It’s not about any sort of politics for me. I am a powerlifter – and I had gone to take part in Mahakal ki Sawari. I was at Tanki Chowk with my friends when I saw a few boys spitting on the procession from their terrace. There were female devotees present as well, and they were more enraged than any of us. Hence, we shot the video and filed a complaint.”

However, when on October 28, Sawan Lot’s written testimony was submitted to the judicial magistrate, it was found that he said in it, “I don’t recognize the accused. I don’t recognize the minors either“. Mentioning that during the evening some argument had happened at the spot, he wrote in his testimony, “Police officers were catching hold of a number of people at the spot and taking them to the police station. I was also taken along. It was at the police station that I learnt that someone spat at the procession. I had not seen anyone spit at the procession. The police officers at the station asked me to sign a few papers, so I did so. I was not told what is written in the papers“.

Another eye witness in this case was a man named Ajay Khatri, who also submitted a written testimony on November 9, 2023, denying seeing anyone spitting on the procession. He also mentioned that some chaos broke out in the place in the evening where some people claimed that someone had spat on the ‘Mahakal Sawari’. His statement said: “It is not correct that I told the police that this incident had hurt the religious sentiments of mine or the community“.

Alt News reached out to complainant Sawan Lot. In a telephonic conversation, he told us that he was forced to deny his earlier statement or retract because his family was receiving ‘death threats’. He admitted to have recorded the viral video of three Muslim youths which allegedly showed them ‘spitting’ and he also mentioned that on the day of the incident, he told the police what he saw and made to sign a few blank pages provided by the cops.

Lot also said that initially, during and after filing the complaint against Mansoori and the two others, he received support from local Hindu leaders and Bajrang Dal members. However, not many stood up for him and his family when they were receiving threats. He further added that he did not file a formal FIR against those who were threatening him and his family owing to his father’s request who wished for his son and the family to stay away from this case in every possible way.

‘Ujjain Thook Kand’: How Mainstream Media Reacted

The news of Adnan Mansoori and the two minor boys’ arrest and detainment, and the demolition of Mansoori’s house was widely covered by several national and local outlets, with some news channels describing it as the “Ujjain Thook Kaand” (Ujjain Spitting Scandal). Mainstream news channels such as India Today, News 18 India, News 18 Rajasthan, News 18 MP & Chhattisgarh, Zee News, and Hindustan ran programs hailing the bulldozer action unleashed on the accused.

In one of the earliest lessons, trainee journalists and sub-editors are taught the use of the word ‘alleged’ when talking about a crime which is under investigation. While seeking punishment for the three Muslim boys and hailing the civic body’s swift deliverance of justice on board a bulldozer, senior journalists and anchors seemed to have forgotten this basic premise of journalistic ethics.

Several channels played the viral video on a loop claiming that it showed the boys ‘spitting’. However, all that the video showed was the boys standing on the balcony of their house, holding water bottles and occasionally drinking from them. As per a report by Article 14, police also mentioned the existence of video evidence against the accused in the court, but the same was never produced.

News 18 India

In his primetime show ‘Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge’ on News18 India, Aman Chopra began his reportage on the “Ujjain Thook Kaand” by stating that the story that he was about to show the audience was of the ‘punishment received by those who created enmity with the country’. His comments on the ‘bulldozer action’ were accompanied by a large graphic containing a text in Hindi that translates to: “Big punishment in Ujjain spit incident (thook kaand)”.

Chopra continued his coverage of the incident in his signature dramatic style with music of a similar theme playing in the background. He emphasized how wrong and shameful the act was that had been committed by the ones staying in that house which was subsequently torn down. The program played the viral video mentioned above, and Chopra stated that the boys ‘intentionally’ spat on the Mahakal Baba procession. He went on to mention that the boys tried to disturb communal harmony and disrespect the devotees of Mahakal Baba and that the MP government’s ‘bulldozer model’ punished them for the same.

Chopra also clarified before anyone could call it out that the ‘bulldozer action’ is not targeting any particular community. To back his statement, he cited the incident where Pravesh Shukla, a BJP politician, urinated on a Dalit man and the MP government took strong legal action in the matter. Shukla also met with ‘bulldozer action’.

Zee News

The Zee News report on the incident available on YouTube is titled, “The house of Adnan, who spat on the procession of Lord Shiva, was demolished. Ujjain Police Bulldozer Action. Mahakaal”. The video was published on July 19, 2023.

News presenter Ankur Bhardwaj starts the 1.49-minute video by pointing out how “disrespecting the Mahakal Sawari has cost some people”.

With clips of demolition and the viral video constantly plugged on the screen and a sensational background score playing, Bhardwaj stated in Hindi: “A video of a few people spitting on ‘Mahakal Sawari’ went viral, a person present in the procession recorded this disgusting incident. Once the video reached the police they dragged the accused from the home and brought them to the police station where they received proper treatment.”

As the viral video played in the background, the anchor kept affirming that the video had captured the boys spitting on the procession and the devotees. But the fact is, it did not. However, Bhardwaj or Zee News’s editorial team did not seem to care.

Live Hindustan

On July 19, 2023, Hindustan covered the incident of Adnan’s house demolition. The thumbnail of the YouTube video said in Hindi: “Spat on devotees in ‘Mahkal Sawari’, mama (referring to the MP CM) unleashed bulldozer”.

The video report described the ‘bulldozer action’ by the MP government as ‘strict action’ against the accused.

India Today

India Today also ran a programme on the incident. The bulletin on the outlet’s YouTube channel is titled “Big Crackdown by the Shivraj Singh Govt In MP After 3 Men Spit On Holy Mahakal Yatra”. The anchor hosting the program did not use of the term ‘alleged’ even though trial was yet to begin in the case, let alone conviction. The video also plugged the viral clip of the boys, with the anchor falsely emphasizing that it showed them spitting.

Republic Bharat

Republic Bharat, the Hindi outlet of Arnab Goswami-led Republic TV, uploaded a statement by BJP MLA Rameshwar Sharma where he thanked the chief minister for swift action in the matter. The video report is titled: ” BJP MLA Rameshwar Sharma बोले-Mahakal की सवारी पर थूकने वालों के मकान भी तोड़ेंगे और …| Ujjain” (BJP MLA Rameshwar Sharma said-We will demolish houses of those who spat on Mahakal procession and we will also…| Ujjain”) The MLA further says, “It is Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s government in Madhya Pradesh and Narendra Modi’s government in Delhi. We will not offer Biriyani to thieves, anti-nationals and those who spit on religious processions.”

Propaganda Outlet OpIndia

Right-wing propaganda outlet OpIndia ran a story headlined “Madhya Pradesh: House of one Adnan Mansoori bulldozed by the Ujjain administration, he and two others had spat on a Hindu religious procession”. The story says, “The residence of one of the three accused who spat on a Hindu religious procession ‘Mahakal ki Sawari’ from the rooftop, was torn down by a bulldozer on Wednesday (19 July) morning.” The story does not use the word ‘alleged’ even on a single occasion. It repeatedly mentions that the three ‘spat’ on the procession.

No Reports on the Backtracking by the Complainants: Business as Usual for Mainstream Media

We checked each of the above outlets’ X and YouTube pages and found that in the two weeks following the bail to Adnan Mansoori, none of them reported it. Nor did any of them cover the fact that the eyewitness and the complainant had backtracked on their earlier ‘statements’. The search results with the date filter can be seen here for India Today, News 18 India, Zee News, Live Hindustan, Republic Bharat, and propaganda outlet OpIndia.

We also ran relevant keyword searches on Google in both English (1, 2) and Hindi (1, 2) with the date filter. We could not find any related report. These same outlets had gone out all guns blazing against the accused and even before any kind of trial took place, announced them as guilty.

While each media outlet is entitled to take its own editorial decision on what to cover and what not to cover, in this case, the non-reporting of the bail and. more importantly, the backtracking of the complainant suggest a clear lack of any semblance of journalistic ethics and a bias against the accused, all of whom were Muslims. Two of them were minors and if their lives were turned upside down on the basis of what appears to be a false complaint, it becomes the duty any media outlet worth its salt to report the ramifications of the witness and complainant turning hostile. Besides, it also becomes almost obligatory to question the law-enforcement agencies which based their action solely on the statement of the complainant, which according to the same complainant, never existed in the first place. The Times of India described the turnaround in the case as ‘stunning’.

It is pertinent to add here that the eagerness of the Indian mainstream news channels to sensationalize an alleged crime where the accused are Muslims does not come as a surprise. Nor does the absence of any report on the trio’s bail and the complainant’s backtracking. Vilification of Muslims has been a standard operating procedure for the Indian mainstream media for the last decade or so. Instances of these are so readily available that it seems almost redundant to cite them. The coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at the onset of the Covid pandemic is one that quickly comes to mind.

India Today Questioned Police Action

On January 15, Article 14 was one of the first media outlets to publish a report on this case with the latest updates. India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai hosted a programme on January 16 in which he spoke about Adnan Mansoori’s bail and the backtracking of the statements by the complainant and eye witness. Tweeting his show from India Today’s official X page, he wrote: “Get real India: jailed, his house bulldozed, now it turns out that the case against a teenager was filed under false witness claims! Watch this story from Ujjain. Stories you won’t get to see on prime time across news channels any more.🙏”

In the programme, Sardesai slammed the way Mansoori was treated. Who will give him back the 151 days that he spent incarcerated and the house that was bulldozed, he asked. However, India Today was one of the mainstream national news channels which had called the demolition a ‘big crackdown’ by the MP government back in July 2023.

No Response from Ujjain Police

Alt News tried multiple times over the past week to contact the SP and ASP regarding the matter but failed to get a response. This story will be updated as and when they choose to speak to us.

The Indian Express quoted Ujjain SP Sachin Sharma as saying, “There are many reasons because of which prosecution witnesses become hostile. This happens sometimes.” When asked why the witnesses claimed they had been made to sign on papers without reading, Sharma added, “Even in murder cases witnesses become hostile. That doesn’t mean the murder hasn’t happened.”

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