"He returned from quarantine and kept crying. I had not seen him cry ever. He kept saying there was a conspiracy against him and that he was falsely implicated. He was in another room all day. I went to him and kept asking him if he was fine, but he did not tell me anything," Usha, the mother of 37-year-old Mohammad Dilshad, who took his life by first slashing his wrists and then hanging himself to death in his home on 5 April, spoke to The Quint from Bangarh village in Himachal's Una district.
The villagers of Bangarh had begun to grow suspicious of Dilshad. They thought that he contracted COVID-19 and would end up infecting others in the village. They had seen him give two other Muslims – said to be from the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi's Nizamuddin – a lift on his scooter across their village in the end of March. They called the police on him after repeatedly telling him his actions were uncalled for. Dilshad, though upset by the constant taunts, admitted himself in the hospital as per the wishes of villagers. Three days later the reports came negative and the very next day he ended his life.
Dilshad belonged to the Mirasi community, which is known for singing songs at wedding functions. A few years ago he had started selling chicken meat to support his large family. His father died over a decade ago of a heart attack. He married off seven of his sisters before settling down in Bangarh village with his wife, mother and a five-year-old daughter he had adopted from one of his sisters.
The Quint spoke to his family, the village sarpanch and the police authorities to understand where the investigation into his death stands as of 11 April.
The Note Dilshad Left Behind
A Sudden Loss
After his death while arrangements were being made for his burial, his family found a pocket notepad lying in his cupboard. After being overwhelmed by seeing his last written words in pencil, they passed it on to the police. The note read: “I’m no one’s enemy.” Una Superintendent of Police Karthikeyan G confirmed they've recorded the evidence.
Usha, who was the last person Dilshad spoke to, recounts the last conversation she had with her son.
"I was up and filling water when he said was going to bathroom at the rear end of the house. He did not come back even 20 minutes later. Then I got worried. I asked our relatives if they had seen him but none had. Then we all went out to look for him, his wife went to the shed and found him hanging there, his wrists dripping with blood," Usha recalled.
The Scooter Ride
Speaking about this ride where he gave a lift to two Tabhligi Jamaat members, his uncle, Dilawar Khan says, "A maulvi from the area called him and asked him to help a few guys out. They wanted to spend the night at the mosque in the village but were told that that would not be possible due to the lockdown. So then the maulvi said that all we could do was drop them on the highway or elsewhere. The maulvi then called Dilshad and asked him to drop them off."
Right after this, the villagers turned hostile towards Dilshad’s family. “They were definitely saying things, even if it was not to our face directly.” There were rumours doing the rounds of how someone had seen him give a lift to two bearded men and soon everyone was talking about it.
Before Dilshad called the police, the villagers already had. While Bangarh village sarpanch is Parmila Devi, she was not available for comment. It was her husband, Arun Kumar, who picks calls and answers questions on her behalf. Kumar explains how the villagers called the police on Dilshad. "After the lockdown had been announced and it was being strictly enforced in the village, Dilshad had taken two people on his scooter and helped them on their way out of the village. Upon seeing that, people in the village grew paranoid and suspicious as they saw him with these unknown people. They were scared and called the police. There were about thirty people and the police, and Dilshad was made to accept it." Dilshad then went on to say that he had helped two men, who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi, cross over the village towards their home in Bilaspur.
"People kept telling him why he would risk the lives of all villagers by giving those Jamatis a lift. They kept taunting him. Even if no one said it to his face they were thinking it," Kumar said.
Dilshad went with the authorities to get tested and his tests came negative.
But by then, the villagers had stopped purchasing milk from Dilshad's sister who resides in the village. "They were treating us us like we had done something terrible. All this really affected Dilshad when his sister and we apprised him of everything upon his return."
Return from Quarantine
Dilawar Khan ponders on the circumstances that led to Dilshad's death, "After he returned from quarantine he seemed a different person. He was depressed for sure. He kept crying non-stop. I cannot believe that he has killed himself. I don’t know what was in his head and heart."
He returned home around 2:00 pm on 4 April and had ended his life by 7:00 am on 5 April.
The sarpanch's husband, Kumar, says he was the one who called the police. "I got a call from one of his cousins, after which I called the police. As the pradhan of the village it is my responsibility to tell them. Then I went with the police to their house. I got the call at 7:52 am in the morning," said Kumar, claiming he’s the real Pradhan while his wife is just the one holding the official title. He recalls Dilshad’s family flying into a rage when the cops met them. Kumar says, "Dilshaad ka parivaar badduaein de rahaan tha gaaon ke logo ko. (Dilshad's family was cursing the entire village)"
Dilshad’s wife, Amandeep, is trying to keep herself occupied and focus on the well-being of their daughter. "He was a good and simple man. If not for the constant taunting he would have been alive today. Dilshad was in perfect health and eventually that was proved too. Why did they have to be so brutal?"
Who’s to Blame?
The family is aware that they have to live in the same village for the rest of their lives, and that is keeping Dilshad's family from naming anyone in the village.
"I sit at the ration store in the village, Dilshad's mother had come to take ration. I gave her what she wanted and took no money from her. She was crying and requested I help arrange the death certificate. Since he died at his home, the panchayat has to prepare this. I said I would do it," said Kumar. Usha says they need his death certificate as the bank accounts, property and other documents have his name.
While the family grapples with the loss of Dilshad, Una SP Karthikeyan told The Quint that the investigation so far indicates it is a case of social stigma leading to death. "We have sent for the visceral report but as all the laboratories are shut down, there will be a delay in getting it. Currently the investigation is being done under Section 174 of the CrPC, which is the investigation of an unnatural death."
He added that the testimonies of all the family members had been recorded, including the diary note Dilshad had left behind. "However, since the family or Dilshad's parting note has not named anyone it may be hard to find the accused in the case."