Saira Bano’s light grey eyes are lightless. With her dupatta, now also her shroud that covers her head, Saira sits upright on a cot, narrating for the umpteenth time, in a nasal drone, the last time she saw and spoke to her 16-year-old son Junaid who wanted some money to make purchases for Eid-ul-Fitr.
That was on 22 June. By evening of that fateful day Junaid was dead – insulted for being a Muslim, beaten and then stabbed multiple times by a mob on a train which was taking him and his elder brother Hashim back to Khandawli village in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh tehsil.
This afternoon, as Saira recounts the gory circumstances that led to her son’s brutal killing, a crowd has begun gathering outside the modest house in an overwhelmingly Muslim-dominated village. Sitting close to Saira, two village women, Basgari and Meena, between them hold a thousand-beaded tasbih, softly incantating the Kalima Tayyibah with la ilaha illalah/Muhammadur Rasulallah. Basgari and Meena will repeat the Kalima 70,000 times.
“Woh log zalim hain, zalim ki tarah saza honi chahiyye. Unko Musalmanon se dushmani hai (They are cruel, they should be punished appropriately. They hate Muslims.) ” Saira says calmly, her gaze fixed on the white beads moving between Basgari and Meena’s nimble fingers. From time to time, she goes silent, then murmurs “Allah” several times as she tries to come to terms with the loss of one of her seven sons.
“They had to target a child. Junaid’s beard was pulled before he was beaten and stabbed,” Saira, who has lost all appetite for food, says as she rests her frail and tired frame on the cot, resting her head on a grimy, coverless pillow.
Opposite House No 126 – the modest house Junaid had come visiting from Surat where he had turned a hafiz or memoriser of the Quran – the courtyard of the local Congress office was choc-a-bloc with the Muslim residents of Khandawli.
The Congress’ Palwal MLA Karan Singh Dalal and Yunus Ahmed, the president of Haryana’s Muslim Welfare Society, had gathered to pay condolences to the bereaved family. Junaid’s father, Mohammad Zainalabedin, has little time for us as he must attend to the stream of local Congress politicians.
“We have not had any representative from the local BJP or the state government,” Zainalabedin says as he loses himself in the slowly swelling crowd that has spilled over in front of the Congress office and the brick lane that runs beside his house.
Around the rustic, brick-built warren of houses and the labyrinthine lanes of Khandawli, a village of 3,002 registered voters, motley groups of men in skull caps, white pathan suits or humble lungis gather and speak in hushed tones. The elderly Muslims with their greying beards take drags from hukkahs. In every corner and at every bend lurks a sense of fear and anger.
“Darr, khauf aur gussa hai ( We are scared and angry)”, says 17-year-old Mohammad Kasim, one of Junaid’s more articulate brothers. Kasim’s one question that he is seeking an answer to is “duty karnewalon ke beech chakku kahan se aaya? How did these labourers have a knife on them?)”
Hashim, who is nursing wounds in his belly and left shoulder suffered on that fateful train ride, is stoic in the face of his sibling’s controlled anger.
Unable to muster enough courage to speak out openly, Hashim limps to a neighbour’s house to find some solace.
Behind Junaid’s house, outside a small provision store, Mohammad Azad, who, like Zainalabedin, earns a living driving taxis, said: “Yahan sub sehme huye hain; kahin doosra haadsa na ho jaye.” Azad is fully aware of the outbreak of violence and hostility that began with Akhlaq in Dadri and the lynching that took Pehlu Khan’s life in Alwar.
The male residents of Khandawli are engaged in different callings, but most are plumbers, cattle traders, carpenters and taxi drivers. Very few own land. Zainalabedin certainly does not. His only property is the gloomy two-storey house where life has been turned upside down in the wake of the tragedy that has struck his family.
But the tragedy is also of Khandawli village which is about 50 kms northeast of Nuh, the heart of Mewat which has had a history of bloody violence between Hindus and Muslims.
“Kaise chaley jayein Pakistan?” asks Junaid’s 76-year-old nana Khaksar Haji Noor Mohammad, adjusting his rickety eyeglasses and an ungainly turban. “Nobody here wants to express his or her anger directly”, Noor Mohammad adds.
While anger among Khandawli’s Muslims is palpable, they dare not express it, lest the more dominating Hindus of nearby villages cast unwanted aspersions on them. Forty-five-year-old Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed who took taleem in Khoiri village, some 15-16 kms from Khandawli, proudly says that “Pakistan geera lafz hai. Hindustan humare dil ka tuqda hai. Iss tarah ka bhed-bhav pehle Khandawli mein nahin tha. Lekin jub-se Haryana mein BJP Sarkar aayi hai, tub-se nafrat badh gaya hai.” (Pakistani is a derogatory term. We love India. There were no communal incidents in Khandawli. Hatred has increased after the BJP came to power in Haryana.)”
Sayeed and others such as Mohammad Shameem, who runs a dingy provision store close to Junaid’s house nurse the village’s loss, describing the 16-year-old hafiz as a “honhaar sitara (bright child)” whose “life has been cruelly snuffed out”.
The drains of Khandawli are open and stagnant. Here and there young girls, mostly school dropouts, cradle new-born babies in their hennaed arms. Several women are pardanasheen before the menfolk, but most do not don the burqa. The elderly womenfolk sit on charpoys or at the thresholds of their modest homes, counting prayer beads. The odd child has taken to flying kites this time of the year.
The uneasy calm in the not-so-idyllic village under Prithla Assembly constituency (held by the BSP) is punctuated by the hushed tones of men gathered in small groups of fours or fives. The general refrain among the menfolk, whose raging anger within is expressed in words laced with fear, is: First arrest the accused persons, and if this is not done, it will reflect the Manoharlal Khattar government’s nakaami.