Shafique Ahmed Muhammed Salim did not seek fame. When it came uninvited, it came on the shadow of a deep personal tragedy: the death of his son in the Malegaon bomb blasts.
To the rest of the country, Salim is the ‘man who turned down the government’s compensation cheque’. In Malegaon, however, he is another father who spent the past week burying his 18-year-old son, Sajid and 17-year-old nephew Shahbaz.
“Something inside me just snapped when the clerk called out my name for the compensation cheque,” says the 39-year-old chemist. “The town has suffered due to government apathy and does not even have a proper hospital to treat the blast victims. And here, the government was trying to put salt on our wounds by giving us Rs 50,000 as bheekh.”
Salim was not alone in rejecting the government's ‘bheekh.’ To the embarrassment of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, his brother Shakeel, and two others joined in rejecting the cheques in protest against what they see as the government’s neglect of the textile town’s development. Worse, the angry men offered to pay the government Rs 10 lakh if they could catch the culprits.
The gesture brought in its wake immediate action. The state government announced that the 200-bed hospital, first promised by Deshmukh five years ago, but never delivered, would be set up soon.
In his one-storied house near the Mushawarat Chowk, where his son — due to leave for China with three other boys in October to study medicine —died in the blasts, Salim says he spoke out on behalf of the people of Malegaon. “Many lives would have been saved had the health infrastructure been in place,” he says. “People had to rush the injured to hospitals on handcarts. And here, I was hastily summoned in the morning to the press conference to make a huge show of how the government cared for us. It was then that something inside me just snapped,” he says.
The death of Sajid and Shahbaz is an inconsolable loss for Salim’s uncle, Haji Abdul Qayoom Abdul Majeed, the 52-year-old head of a 33 member joint family. It was Majeed who raised Salim, his brothers and sisters after their father died in 1975. “We were happy that Sajid was going abroad to be a doctor. But fate had something else in store. Woh hamare ghar ka heera tha (He was our family’s pride).”
Salim who runs the Salim Medical Stores, says he now wants to focus on rearing his other two sons. “So what if my child is no more? Three more children from the town are going to China to study medicine. I am happy for them. After all, they are like my children.”