"We are waiting for tensions to ease in their village, so we can at least visit them in this hour of grief... Checking up on Neeraj's family is difficult due to the internet shut down," said 58-year-old Saleem Sheikh.
He is the brother-in-law of Neeraj Lal, a home guard, who was killed on Monday, 31 July, in the communal violence that erupted in Haryana's Nuh. Six people were killed, including two home guards who were on duty.
A member of the Muslim community, Neeraj hailed from Gurugram's Garhi Bazidpur village. He's survived by his wife and their two children.
The Quint met Saleem, an official at Delhi's Dwarka court, outside the court premises, five days after Neeraj's death.
"What do I even say about the riots? It's clearly a political stunt. There's poverty and unemployment... And then there are some who are misguided. The politicians take advantage of all these aspects. The way the unrest has flared up, we don't think the tensions will ease up anytime soon," he lamented.
'Realised Intensity of Unrest After We Lost Our Own'
"We were all following updates of the riots. It was a Monday and most of us were at work. We didn't realise the intensity of the unrest till we lost one of our own," lamented Saleem.
The son of a former Indian Army officer Chiranjee Lal, Neeraj was a part of a team of home guards that was sent from Gurugram to Nuh where communal tensions had flared up following an alleged attack on the Brij Mandal Jalabhishek Yatra organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The convoy of security personnel came under attack in Nuh on Monday around 5 pm by a mob, and killed Neeraj and his colleague Gursev Singh.
Saleem told The Quint that Neeraj's elder brother Sunil received a call from the police after Neeraj was taken to Medanta Hospital in Gurugram along with other police personnel who were injured.
"Sunil did not immediately inform Neeraj's wife or father. He called me and a few other relatives and said that Neeraj had met with an accident during the unrest. None of us clearly knew at first. But soon after we reached Medanta, we were told that he was no more," recalled Saleem.
The family stayed at the hospital at night while legal formalities were being carried out.
'Spoke to Neeraj's Injured Colleagues to Know What Exactly Happened'
"Neeraj died in Nuh but was officially posted in Gurugram... So, the handover proceedings took longer," said Saleem.
Neeraj's family spoke to his colleagues to understand what happened on the ill-fated Monday.
"We were told that both Neeraj and Gursev were in the first vehicle of the convoy which was attacked. The Station House Officer (SHO) was also in that vehicle. It was followed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police's (ACP) vehicle which came under attack too. The third vehicle had the District Superintendent of Police (DSP)," said Saleem.
He added that the police officials told the family that the driver was hurt after stones were pelted on the convoy due to which he lost control and the car toppled. "The second vehicle behind it then crashed into the first one," said Saleem.
Saleem said that the family has not yet received the post-mortem report. "We don't know if he died due to injuries he sustained when the car toppled or if it was due to the stone pelting," he said.
Mistaken Religious Identity
"The media initially thought that Neeraj's family is Hindu given their names but in our region, Muslims having Hindu names is pretty common," Saleem said.
He explained that the family don't belong to the Meo community, an ethnic group with common Hindu and Muslim rituals.
Speaking to news agency IANS, Neeraj's brother Sonu described him as as a 'fun loving' person.
"We live in a Hindu-dominated village and there are a few Muslim families. Since we were living in peace, harmony and brotherhood with our Hindu neighbours, our forefathers had decided to adopt Hindu names," said Sonu. He told IANS that he last spoke to Neeraj before he left home on Monday.
'Neeraj Only Family Member with a Stable Job'
Neeraj got married to Vakila in 2012. A doting father, Saleem recalled how Neeraj had started planning his children's future. "He wanted them to study as much as they can. Now, there will be struggle to even meet daily expenses," said Saleem.
He told The Quint that Neeraj was the only one in the family with a stable job. "His eldest brother Sunil works as a labourer since he lost his job with a construction company during COVID-19. His second brother Sonu works at a factory... Neeraj was the only member of the family with a stable income since he joined the Home Guard 15 years ago," said Saleem.
"We just want that the family is duly compensated. The future of the two children is at stake. Most members of the family are not properly educated... Neeraj was an exception. Vakila has also studied till class 8. Even if the Haryana government gives her a grade IV job, it might help her children's future," said Saleem.
'How Long Will the Compensation Last?'
An FIR was filed on 1 August, on the basis of a complaint by Inspector Ajay Kumar of Kherki Dhaula police station. He claimed that upon reaching Anaj Mandi near Cyber Crime police station in Nuh, they were allegedly attacked by a mob.
The FIR, accessed by The Quint, claims that the mob "pelted stones and attacked police personnel with sticks, iron rods, and stones" which ultimately led to death of home guards Neeraj and Gursev. It also claims that the mobile phones and wallets of the personnel were snatched.
“They (mob) pelted stones, blocked our way, and started firing at us with an intention to kill. Police personnel were brutally beaten up,” it reads.
The FIR has been filed under IPC sections pertaining to murder, rioting, and unlawful assembly, among others, and section 25 of the Arms Act.
In a statement issued by the Haryana Police: "While no amount can compensate for the loss of a loved one, the bereaved family will be provided with Rs 57 lakh and all support by Haryana Police."
Saleem, however, said, "Money doesn't matter much in situations like these. How long will the government compensation even last?"
Neeraj was laid to rest with state honours on 1 August.