Justice And Normalcy Are Far Dreams For Us, Say Hate Crimes Survivors

These are stories of women whose lives and livelihoods remain ruptured months after they faced sectarian violence

Trigger warning – Mentions of mob violence which readers may find distressing. 

Rafiq Tamboli went missing in June 2021 while driving a meat truck from Daund in western Maharashtra to Mumbai. It has been three years since he disappeared somewhere en route but to-date, Maharashtra Police has not filed an FIR in the case. There only exists a missing persons complaint filed by his wife, Reshma.

At some point during his drive to Mumbai, Rafiq is believed to have been accosted by cow vigilantes. Reshma says she has no idea whether he is alive or dead and the police do not seem to be making any progress with the case. She has little hope that he survived the encounter with the mob, but Reshma, who now sells vegetables to make a living, is struggling to find closure.

In Satara’s Koregaon block, the entire family of 16-year-old Kabeer Khan* has been facing physical and verbal abuse ever since he was falsely accused of posting insulting material about Shivaji Maharaj. Though the police found the allegation to be false, he was still sent to a children’s home and his father arrested. The vegetable stall his aunt, Shahnaz, ran was wrecked by miscreants and her 10-year-old daughter was bullied in school. 

In September 2023, Nurul Hasan Shikalgar, 30, was lynched by a mob in Satara’s Pusesawali village for allegedly posting objectionable material online. His wife Ayesha is now struggling to raise her newborn with no support from her in-laws.

 In the weeks, months and years following a communal hate crime, what happens to the survivors, especially the women? We spoke to five families that are still trying to piece their lives together. They have little help from the criminal justice system, their emotional lives have been permanently disrupted, and communal hostilities make it hard for them to resume their work or social life.

As this 2020 research paper by legal scholar Mohsin Alam Bhat pointed out, hate crimes have a long history in India but have shown a considerable rise since 2015. The sectarian violence not just shows the rupture in the social fabric but also the limitations of the criminal justice system, Bhat added, with the police appearing unable to control the perpetrators.

“Survivors of any hate crime can’t get justice without legal aid. Article 39-A of the Constitution of India guarantees free legal aid from the State for those who can not afford it. But considering the rise in hate crimes and the State’s failure to ensure justice and safety of the people, the question arises – are we living in a constitutional democracy? Also, current legal aid in India lacks quality,” said Teesta Setalvad, human rights activist who has been part of larger battles for substantive justice for the survivors. Her organisation Citizen for Justice and Peace has been documenting hate and other mass crimes.   

‘Told Not To File FIR’

How India’s police force reacts to hate crimes is defined largely by the nature of the government in power, said former IPS officer Suresh Khopade, who has spearheaded a campaign for communal harmony. “It’s not that they [the police] suddenly turned communal after 2014, but earlier governments, more secular, would keep them in check. The ideology of government percolates into the police system as well. No individual official can sustain a good policing system without a collective secular vision,” he said.

A Pune lawyer who did not wish to be named said that more than 90 Muslim youth were picked up indiscriminately by the police when riots broke out in Shegaon in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district in May 2023. Many of them were nowhere near the scene of the violence, he said. “I obtained their locations through mobile towers for their bail pleas, then they were granted bail. But they took no action against those who abuse Muslim women,” said the lawyer.

Shaheen*, a survivor of the Delhi riots of 2020, lives in Khajuri Khas in north-east Delhi, says the police did nothing to help her family. “I was constantly calling the police for help when a fully charged mob approached us with petrol, swords, lathis. ‘We’ll send help’, they said, but none came for two hours,” said Shaheen.  

Shaheen struggles everyday to make ends meet after she lost everything in the Delhi Riots 2020. She called the police for help, they promised, never came, she alleged/ Priyanka Tupe

Her house was vandalised, looted and burnt by a mob including the family’s two motorcycles. But no FIR was filed by the Delhi Police. “The police pressured us to not register an FIR using mediators, elderly Muslim social workers in our area. ‘It would be dangerous for you and your husband to file an FIR. ‘After all, you need to live with these (accused) Hindu neighbours,’ they said. I also don’t have the finances for protracted court cases at the end of which these accused would likely get acquitted,” she said.

‘I Have No Support In This Fight’

When her husband went missing, Reshma had approached the Daund police station in Pune. The police said they were filing a missing person complaint on her behalf. Reshma was adamant that her husband had been killed or kidnapped but she did not know the difference between a missing complaint and an FIR. And, as we said before, the case remains in limbo.

BehanBox contacted Chandrakant Yadav, a senior police officer at the Daund police station, with a set of questions, primarily why no FIR has been filed so far. Yadav asked us to contact investigating officer Tukaram Rathod who had only this to say: “We are investigating the matter. We do investigate missing cases and there is no need for an FIR for this.” 

Legal experts differ on Rathod’s claim: “Daund police should have filed an FIR under section 364 IPC. Tamboli’s family members also could have approached the district magistrate if they were not satisfied with the police or approached the high court with a habeas corpus petition.” Section 156 of the Code of criminal procedure also empowers any officer-in-charge of a police station to investigate any cognisable case without the order of a magistrate. 

However, Reshma Tamboli is neither equipped with the legal knowledge nor does she have other legal avenues – the help of legal or social activists or a district legal aid centre. She does not even have the support of her marital family. When she visited the Daund police station for the very first time, she was told to stick the ‘missing posters’ around the city. Her daily income, with which she has to feed her children, is never more than Rs 300 a day.

“I didn’t have enough money for travel, lodging or food. I slept on the road, and still got posters printed with what little money I had,” she recalled, with tears in her eyes.

A Muslim activist, who did not wish to be named, pointed out that it was inhuman to ask a woman who was distressed and poor to take on the task of sticking a missing person notice around the city, a task that is usually performed by the police. “In my observation of several cases, Muslim women are not treated with respect in police stations. Islamophobia among the police is very evident.” 

Reshma, who had migrated from drought-prone Dharashiv (Osmanabad) in 2008 after she got married, had joined the Tamboli family’s vegetable selling business. After Rafiq’s disappearance, she continued with the business in Kurla. The entire load of running this business and raising her two children is now on her. Salokha Collective, a network focussed on communal harmony and the documentation of hate crimes in Maharashtra, is helping Reshma with finances to help educate her children.

Reshma Tamboli is a vegetable seller in Kurla, Mumbai. She is seeking closure, after 3 years of her husband Rafiq being 'missing' and is left with no hope/ Priyanka Tupe


There is another fallout of the Tamboli incident, and other such cases. Bhola Qureshi, a member of the meat transportation association in Mumbai, told BehanBox that no one wants to work as driver or cleaner on his trucks any longer. “Their families, mainly mothers and wives, refuse to let them take on meat truck jobs,” he said.

Six Months Later, Fear Persists

Shahnaz, 30, is a vegetable seller in Koregaon block of Satara district in Maharashtra. She still recalls the trauma of the days following her nephew’s arrest after miscreants hacked his social media account and posted offensive material.

“Even after they found out about the hacking, the police weren’t ready to release him from custody and instead sent him to the children’s home for almost a week. His father was also arrested because of his alleged ‘links’ to the so-called crime. We didn’t have money for his bail and it was social activist Minaj Sayyad who helped us secure bail. Even after that, the police insisted that he visit the police station everyday though they knew it would affect his work as a daily wager,” Shahnaz told Behanbox

According to a source in Satara police, the whole Instagram episode was not even religious in nature. The miscreant in question and Kabeer were in love with the same girl and the hacking was done out of spite.

Six months later, Shahnaz and her family still live in fear. They survive on their spare earnings as vegetable vendors. They continue to face hostile comments and behaviour from their neighbours and other villagers. Their young daughter, Muskaan, was told not to attend the school for almost more than a month so she was not confronted by hostile behaviour. Shahnaz’s sister, who is an Asha worker, said it felt as though the family had to prove its patriotism every single day. “People who she has been serving for years now look at her differently,” she said.

Other incidents of hacking of social media accounts of young Muslims were also reported from Satara’s Rahimatpur, Pusesawali, Vardhagad, Ibrahimpur, and Koregaon areas, according to the fact-finding reports of Salokha Collective. “Minor youths were implicated and their families humiliated by right wing groups, especially the women,” said Minaj Sayyad, Salokha collective’s convenor in Satara and member of a fact-finding committee on hate crimes in western Maharashtra.  

In another such incident, Nurul Hasan Shikalgar, 30 was lynched by a mob in Pusesawali village of Satara district in September 2023. He was accused of putting up derogatory posts on Sambhaji Maharaj. We met Ayesha in her natal home because her in-laws have dissociated themselves from her.

“The baby looks exactly like Nurul but my in-laws refuse to have anything to do with us. My father-in-law only visited us just once at the hospital after I delivered. Would this have happened if my husband was alive?” Ayesha alleged that Nurul’s family is sitting on Rs 3 lakh that came as donations, leaving her parents to now bear the entire financial burden of raising the child.

It has been reported that women who lost their husbands in Delhi riots 2020 were being abused and abandoned by their in-laws. 

Loss of Livelihood, Education

Hate crimes generate long-term feelings of fear and anxiety, we found. Women told us that the violence takes away their sense of belonging and faced with systematic discrimination, and criminalisation they feel alienated. Forced migration and displacement for safety of lives cause additional stress. 

Shaheen, for example, said her husband’s work has been disrupted so badly that there are days when he earns nothing. The family can no longer afford schooling for their children and Shaheen is scared to leave her young girls home to find work.

Ab aadha litre dudh bhi nahi kharid paate kabhi kabhi. Phal toh khana band hi ho gaya, bachhe kabhi kuch khane ki jid karte hai, to unko samjhana bada muskil ho jata hai (sometimes, we can’t afford half a litre of milk. We stopped buying fruits and it is hard to explain to the children why we can’t give them what they like to eat),” said Shaheen. 

Her sister-in-law, who dropped out from college, wanted to complete her graduation. The riots put an end to her ambition. “The kind of hostility and humiliation we faced frightens us. I lost all my certificates when our home was set on fire. Then I lost two more years during Covid,” she said.

Shaheen said she is startled by the slightest noise at night. And her youngest daughter panics when she hears anyone say ‘Jai Shree Ram’ because that is what she recalls the rioters shouting. “Bolti hai ab danga hone wala hai (now there will be riots),” she says

[*Not their real names, identity hidden on request.]


  • Priyanka Tupe is a multimedia journalist with Behanbox based in Mumbai.

Malini Nair (Editor)

Malini Nair is a consulting editor with Behanbox. She is a culture writer with a keen interest in gender.

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