A Sombre Iftar: "We Were Attacked Because of Our Religious Identity"
AKRATI BHATIA, V.PADMAJA & ALIYA JAMAL
New Delhi: With dusk fast approaching, many residents of Delhi's Jamia Nagar are busy making arrangements for the Iftar evening meal. But, the Iftar meet at the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) headquarters is like no other. Though the gathering is of a sizeable proportion, the tone of the evening is rather somber. As the guests arrive, the attendees glance at them with anticipation and a sense of sadness grips the air. The circumstances that bring the guests together are the frightful episodes of communal violence and cow vigilantism. Taking turns, the families of the victims of mob lynching in Dadri and Alwar, along with the missing JNU student, Najeeb’s mother begin sharing their sordid tales of injustice.
Akhlaq’s brother, Jaan Mohammad has still not come to terms with the horrific night of September 2015 when his brother was lynched to death by cow vigilante groups on rumours of beef possession. “Neither the police nor any investigation has been able to ascertain why my brother was killed,” he lamented. He ruefully added that the government had not offered any support and pointed at the glaring discrepancies in the forensic lab report confirming beef.
Outlining the extent of fear over the recent instances of mob attacks, he continued “One could face a lion and maybe still escape unscathed, but the same could not be said about an encounter with a cow.”
Azmat Khan, a dairy farmer would have met the same fate as that of Akhlaq and his neighbor, Pehlu Khan, if it had not been for his narrow escape. “We were attacked despite having all documents required for the purchase of cattle. Pehlu and I were targeted only because of our religious identity.” When asked if he would continue with his occupation, his anger was palpable. “In this vicious atmosphere, how can we continue? Today we cannot even buy buffaloes, let alone a cow for our livelihood. Our family has been engaged in dairy farming since generations, and it is what even we do. Without this, we will become more vulnerable financially.”
Pehlu Khan’s son, Irshad was anguished as to how punitive measures are being taken against them. “Not only did I lose my father, I was robbed off money, belongings and my dignity. But still cases are being lodged against us while the culprits continue to roam free,” he grieved. Narrating the gory details of incident he added that his father was killed by the mob but his accomplice who was from the same community as that of the mob was spared.
For Nafees Fatima, the mother of missing JNU student Najeeb, life took a dreadful turn when her son became a victim of an alleged communal conspiracy. Recalling her ordeal she said, “Right from the beginning, my son has been denied justice. Whom can I trust when the police themselves are protecting the accused? The JNU administration and security were also mute spectators when my son was being beaten.”
Pointing at the negligence and apathy of the authorities she went on to say, “Everybody from the ruling establishment turned their back at me. I have tried to contact them through all possible mediums including social media but my calls for help have landed on deaf ears. When Madam Sushma Swaraj can rescue distressed Indians abroad, then why is she silent on the disappearance of a student in her own soil.” She wept inconsolably and said that Najeeb was targeted because of his faith. “Those who attacked him shouted Yeh Musalman hai isko Pakistan bhej do”. She however expressed faith in the Court ordered CBI inquiry and hoped that investigations would bring back her son.
As attendees listen to the accounts of the victims, the siren bell calls their attention. A lavish array of food is quickly laid on each table, and in a few minutes the call of Azaan beckons. The guests break their fast with customary date fruits, but the mood continues to remain pensive. With empty stomachs and heavy hearts, people have their first meal of the day, expressing solidarity with the families of the victims.