At the fag end of a grimy shanty colony on the eastern banks of the Sabarmati is a tiny house that belongs to Sarfaraz Khan Pathan (56). Broke, ailing and grief-stricken, Sarfaraz is the father of Sameer Khan Pathan, who was gunned down by the police on October 22, 2002. The police claimed he was a militant plotting the murder of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The family claims Sameer was framed and killed in retaliation for murdering a policeman six years earlier.
Sameer was just one among Gujarat’s many ‘encounter’ victims.
Sitting on a broken cot, Sameer’s mother Jainab Biwi stares blankly at her eldest daughter’s son Aseem. Six months old at the time of Sameer’s death, Aseem was handed over to an inconsolable Jainab by daughter Shehnaz with the words “Isi ko tum Sameer samjho (think of him as Sameer).” Jainab has raised Aseem since then, seeing in him the son she lost to a hail of bullets.
Sameer’s death was, in fact, a double tragedy for the family. Branding him as the father of a terrorist, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Corporation sacked Sarfaraz from his driver’s job. Jainab points out there were no charges against Sarfaraz. “He was dismissed simply because Sameer was killed by the police. They didn’t even pay his dues or provident fund,” she adds.
Sameer used to make ends meet by operating his uncle’s rickshaw. In 1996, he stabbed a constable in plainclothes after an argument in Usmanpura. He had been absconding since then, but the police caught him six years later and claimed that he was on a mission to kill Modi. Within days, he was dead.
While accepting that Sameer killed the constable, she asserts he was no terrorist. “No arms were found on him when he was killed. How could a terrorist have no weapons? How can he kill anyone with his bare hands,” she asks.
The Pathans allege that the police cooked up the story that Sameer had visited Pakistan for terrorist training before returning to kill Modi.
Having lost Sameer and Sarfaraz now jobless, the family survives on the meagre earnings of their younger son, a part-time driver. Sarfaraz drives private vehicles when health permits.
The aging couple has three married daughters, but they never come visiting, afraid that they too will be charged with terrorist links.
But the outcry over the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and the Supreme Court’s tough stance on it has given the family fresh hope. Sarfaraz says he is consulting lawyers on moving the SC.
But another tragedy awaits the Pathans. They had built their tiny home bit by bit, having shifted to the riverbank from Amraiwadi after the communal riots in 1969. In a few months, it will be reduced to rubble, making way for a river beautification project.