On 10 May, Aslam, a newly elected sarpanch in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district, was sent to jail on sedition charges. That month, a sessions court denied Aslam bail on the grounds that he was accused of “grave” and “serious” offences. On 3 July, with Aslam still in custody, the police submitted a chargesheet in court in which they dropped the offence of sedition. Aslam’s case points to the ease with which the police use the provision as a political tool to book and arrest individuals under sedition. According to Shakeel Ahmed, Aslam’s brother, the police had registered the case under pressure from activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bajrang Dal, on the basis of a fake video created by the candidates Aslam defeated in the polls.
Shortly after Aslam’s victory, on 2 May, a video went viral in which some voices were heard shouting “Aslam Bhaiya Zindabad”—Hail brother Aslam—and “Pakistan Zindabad”—Hail Pakistan. The video was shot in the dark, and the faces of those shouting the slogans were not visible. The police accused Aslam and his supporters of raising slogans that hurt religious sentiments and incited hatred toward the Indian government. But Ahmed said neither Aslam nor his supporters had carried out any such rally. Rahul Nishad, a seven-year-old boy from a neighbouring village, told me that he was among a group children who had been paid by persons associated with Aslam’s rival candidates to chant the slogans.
According to Ahmed, Aslam and his supporters did not know at the time of their arrest who made the video or the identity of those shouting the slogans. The voices appear to be those of children and young people. The video was circulated through social media and caught the notice of the local police. The Thangaon police station, in Rewsa block, registered a first-information report on 7 May, and arrested Aslam and three others three days later for the offences of sedition and promoting enmity between different groups. The FIR added that the rally violated COVID-19 safety protocols.
Aslam is the elected sarpanch of the Belauta panchayat, in Sitapur’s Rewsa block. According to Ahmed, there are around one thousand voters in this Hindu-majority panchayat, with a little over a hundred Muslim voters. He added that in the panchayat election held on 29 April, Aslam secured 408 votes, while his nearest rival, Gulab Singh, lost after getting 286 votes.
Ahmed said that Aslam and his team were in the Rewsa block till the early morning hours of 3 May—the night of the counting day. He added that they returned to Belauta village after the counting of votes at around 4 am. “On 7 May, inspector Anil Kumar of Thangaon police station called my brother,” Ahmed told me. “On reaching there, we were shown a video where the slogans ‘Aslam Bhaiya Zindabad,’ ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ were chanted. The inspector asked, ‘Who made this video?’ My brother said that he had no knowledge about that. Since no one's face is visible in this video, it is difficult to recognise. We said that we will listen to it and will notify him if any voice is detected. Also, we will find out at our level. After this the inspector said that we can go.”