The toy shop and house of Vidhu Jain’s family in Malerkotla is on sale but there are no takers. His parents have moved to Ludhiana but are unable to leave behind memories and rebuild their lives. Sitting in their two-room rented accommodation in the Tibba Road locality here, Vidhu’s father Navneet Jain describes him as a faultless child.
The boy’s mother, Aarti Jain, who in her petition to the Punjab and Haryana high court has accused five Muslims of burning Vidhu (11) alive on September 30, 2013, while seeking a CBI probe, says she held tuition for Muslim kids at home.
“The children of some Muslim families used to come to our home for tuition and we had family ties with many Muslims. While I was grieving the tragic loss of my son, we, too, were seen as the suspects. I heard people asking if I was Vidhu’s stepmother or if he was treated well at home. We want to piece together our lives but cannot, the memories haunt us day and night,” she says, while her younger son, nine-year-old Naman, asks for something to eat while watching a cartoon show on TV.
“While Vidhu lost his life, Naman has lost his childhood. He was also interrogated by the police and told us later that he asked the officers to speak to him in English as he does not understand Punjabi well. He did not go to school for months and even now all that he hears about is our discussions on the case. I had never even seen a kachehri (court) and now I am a petitioner in the high court, seeking justice for my son,” says Aarti.
Naman went to the more elite Basant Valley School in Malerkotla, while Vidhu, who his parents say was not too keen on studies, was shifted from Sarvhitkari School to a modest Jain Model School about a year-and-a-half ago. But a three-year-old report card of Sarvhitkari School had marked him outstanding for emotional and spiritual qualities.
Navneet Jain says, “It is an irony that a child blessed with so much spirituality met such a brutal end. He attended a camp where Jain children are trained and visited the temple frequently.
After coming back from school, he used to go straight to the shop and request me to go home for lunch. He wanted a new computer keyboard and I had promised to get it the next time I went to Delhi. The night before the incident, we went to a dhaba on the Dhuri road for dinner. We have struggled a lot and it was only in recent years that we had started to live a good life.”
“I have started the business of selling wedding garments with help from my brothers and in-laws but it has not taken off well,” he says, showing a recent picture of Vidhu dressed up as Swami Vivekanand in school.
Tiff over shoplifting
His death is still shrouded in mystery. The only tiff his parents can recall before the incident was when after his return from Delhi, Vidhu told his father that a few boys were shoplifting kite dor (string) from their shop and he took it back from them.
“It was a very minor issue and we never paid any heed to it. We wonder now if the tiff cost him his life. We have never had any enmity with anyone. Those from our community (Jains) don’t even pluck a leaf from a tree as we believe it has life,” Aarti says, recalling that one of the theories that surfaced after her son’s death was of a family dispute over property bestowed on Vidhu by his grandfather -- there was no ancestral property and Vidhu was born after his grandfather’s death.
Naman’s memories of Vidhu are of an elder brother who spent his pocket money once to feed cows. “I miss him but people say he will come back to us in some form,” he says, struggling to come to terms with his life in Tibba Road whose bylanes, unlike Teliyan Wala bazaar in Malerkotla, have no fancy shops, no toy shop of his own and no confectionery shop where Vidhu spent his pocket money most of the times.