We Cannot Forgive Salman Khan: Family of Hit-and-Run Victim
“We went to Salman’s bungalow a couple of times looking for help. But the security guards there told us to leave”
I followed him into a narrow by-lane inside a desolate slum colony in suburban Mumbai. It looked abandoned, the place. Even its residents didn’t seem to care about it, cursed it probably. The ground was uneven and rocky, littered with human waste. Dimly lit, the only illumination was from the scattered heaps of burning garbage. I could smell the pungent plastic on fire, which made the little man guiding me cough. He had obviously inhaled too much of it over the years.
“Bass, do minute aur, madam,” he turned around to look at me. He led me to his shanty, patiently shooing away the dogs, cats and goats coming in our way.
As we neared his dwelling, we passed a group of men standing in a circle, discussing something. When they saw me with a diary and pen in my hand, they broke their conversation and rushed after me.
“Madam, madam,” shouted one of them, “Aap patrakar hai?” (Are you a journalist?)
When I nodded in response, he joined his hands and said, “Please help him, madam. He needs help. Of all the people here, this man needs help. We have been praying, madam. But it is you who has to help him”.
The little man, Feroz Khan, looked embarrassed again. He had lost his father to the 2002 hit-and-run accident, for which actor Salman Khan was recently acquitted. He lost his guardian to an unforeseen tragedy, his adolescence to the fight for survival, but still he had a twinkle in his eyes.
“Chaliye, madam,” he smiled at me.
“Nothing Can Bring Abbu Back”
When he knocked on the tin sheet that made for the door to his home, his wife opened it for us. We walked inside the fifty-square-feet tenement, and I saw that the space had tin sheets for walls as well; a temporary structure that Feroz had probably built on his own. The floor was still uneven in several places. There were barrels of water strewn all around, laminated pictures of teachings from the Holy Quran, and the only furniture was a cot and a table. As we walked in, Feroz’s two-year-old son put away his milk bottle and cuddled up to his father.
“I was twelve when abbu was killed,” said Feroz. “I don’t remember that day, but I know that it was the day that changed my life. After abbu was gone, my mother sold fish, bananas, anything she could sell. She spent every day wondering where my next meal would come from. As for me, I never went to school. I did several odd jobs. And now, I work as a labourer. There are days when I can afford to bring food for my children; there are days when I can’t. Although we are surviving, nothing can bring abbu back. And now, with this verdict from the court, we don’t even know who took him away,” he said. Feroz’s mother is seated next to him, cradling his son in her lap, smiling at him. I noticed that even as the man spoke words that were disastrously moving, Feroz’s eyes remained expressionless, staunch, like the heartache that had penetrated deep into his skin.
“Salman’s Security Guards Asked Us To Leave”
“We went to Salman Khan’s bungalow a couple of times. We were hoping for help. But the security guards there told us to leave saying that saahab wasn’t home. We also approached an influential politician, but he said he couldn’t help us. Beti, listen to this old woman, justice is always sold to the rich. Poor people like us cannot afford justice,” Feroz’s mother, Begum Jahan spoke calmly, her eyes still glued to her grandson.
When I tried consoling her, she suddenly lost her poise. “I couldn’t even see my husband’s face after his death. Do you know that? His face was gone. His stomach was crushed under those wheels. When a man dies, they carry him to the crematorium on four shoulders. You know how my husband made his final journey? He was crammed into a bag thrown on a hand cart, the one they use to carry garbage. This Feroz, my son, he pushed the cart to the crematorium. That accident took away everything we had, without the smallest courtesy of leaving us with his dead body, the one we could respectfully cremate,” she yelled in whispers, afraid of waking up her younger grandchild.
“We Cannot Forgive Salman”
When I turned to Feroz, his eyes were still as impassive. He said, “There is anger, madam, lots of anger. But it’s inconsequential. Like justice, even anger is not affordable to the poor. No matter what anyone says, we cannot forgive Salman. I couldn’t even see my father’s face one last time. And yet, that rich man never came looking for us. They say he has deposited a compensation amount with the court, but it never reached us.”
After a few minutes, when I began to leave, Feroz offered to escort me to the end of the lane. Seeing him leave, his son clutched his knee. Feroz lifted the child up in his arms, and the boy was asleep in seconds. At the end of the lane, when I shook his hand to say goodbye, his eyes looked hopeful.
“It is my two sons, madam, that I’m most worried about,” he said. “My abbu wanted me to be a doctor, madam. I couldn’t fulfil his wish. But I want my sons to do it. I want them to study. I want them to be respectable men and not an illiterate like me. I don’t want fate to be a liability to them, like it was to me. I want them to be happy. I feel scared for them, madam, I feel very scared. They will be happy, madam, right? They will be happy, no?” he asked me while he had tears in his eyes.
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