‘We can’t trust anyone’: 8 months after Junaid’s killing, his family fights on
In July 2017, Junaid was allegedly stabbed to death, his brother and cousins injured on board a Delhi-Mathura train after an argument over seat sharing triggered a mob attack on them.
When Jalaluddin Khan was first informed about the death of his 16-year-old son Junaid, he reacted like any bereaved parent would have. “I thought this was a case of confusion or mistaken identity,” he says.
Jalaluddin spent most of the last three decades driving a taxi. To his friends and neighbours in Faridabad’s Khandawli village, he was a diligent man, head of a lower middle-class family, husband to Saira Banu, and father to their seven sons and a daughter. Junaid’s murder changed him. “I talk to myself a lot. I tell myself that I cannot afford to lose faith in the Almighty. It is as if this accident has added another layer to my belief in God,” he says.
In June 2017, Junaid was allegedly stabbed to death, his brother and cousins injured on board a Delhi-Mathura train after an argument over seat sharing triggered a mob attack on them. Junaid and his brother, Hashim, were returning home after shopping for Eid in Delhi.
In the weeks following the murder, even as the Police arrested the six accused, the efforts from various quarters to water down the case became increasingly clear to him, the family says. While the media projected the case as the latest in a series of attacks on the Muslim community, many political parties sympathised with the family and the civil society championed their cause. Eventually, Jalaluddin would be alone in this battle.
Two months after the killing in July 2017, four of the six accused got bail after the police withdrew charges of rioting, unlawful assembly and common intention against them.
Jalaluddin moved the Punjab and Haryana high court demanding that the trial at the Faridabad court be stalled and the CBI probe the alleged lynching. After the HC dismissed the petition, he moved a writ petition before the double bench of the Supreme Court which adjourned the proceedings of the trial court on Monday.
“Apart from appealing for an independent trial, our demand is that the charges that were withdrawn must be added again,” says Jalaluddin, seated on a cot on the roof of his house in a narrow lane, part of the maze of green and pink two-storey houses and cattle sheds.
More than eight months after Junaid’s murder, Jalaluddin seems older than his age, 50. However, he is alert and speaks with a steady voice. His white hair is cropped — for the skull cap to adjust better — and beard trimmed. He is wearing his usual white kurta-pyjama. He is polite but wary. He looks away with a frown. “All of them are complicit. We have been denied justice. The police, administration, the government — all are trying to shield the accused,” he says. The police denies the charges.
Every morning Jalaluddin says his prayers at a local mosque where his son, Hashim, leads the congregation.
Last July, Hashim, student at a madrasa in Surat, was visiting Khandawli during Eid holidays. He was with Junaid in the train and sustained severe injuries in the attack. The Waqf Board has employed him as an imam in one of the seven mosques in the village. Hashim keeps getting flashbacks of the accident. He feels weighed down by the corpse of his younger brother he could not save. He keeps hearing the neverending voice of Junaid crying for help. Since the tragedy, he remains secluded and finds it difficult to maintain eye contact. “He was right here in my lap,” says Hashim, looking away.
After breakfast, Jalaluddin scans the Hindi newspaper for snippets about the case. He then gets busy with making calls to the lawyers and taking case briefings. In between, he walks to the cemetery to visit the grave of his son where the gravestone reads ‘Shaheed Hafiz Junaid’.
‘Shaheed’ is Urdu for martyr, and ‘hafiz’ is the one who memorises Quran by heart. “People in the village wanted this title for Junaid. We did not resist,” he says.
Saira Banu, sitting next to her husband, cannot help from staring at the flight of stairs which opens to the roof. “This staircase has made my life a living hell,” she says, looking away towards a wall. “Each time I look at it, I see my child climbing on it. Junaid used to run like a cheetah.”
Their fourth son, Qasim, had also come from Surat for Eid. Qasim, 20, has been trying to help his family move on. “I don’t know if I will resume the course in Surat. My parents and brother need me. Let us see what happens in the days to come. I will decide,” he says.
Their pursuit of justice seems like a mirage as the family oscillates between hope and despair, often finding themselves pitched against people they thought were their own. “The village panchayat has met four times wanting an out-of-court settlement,” says Jalaluddin. “They summoned me but I didn’t go because I would have left with no option but to concede. It appears that most of them are in favour of getting the matter resolved amicably. They just want my consent.” Members of the panchayat could not be reached for comments.
Jalaluddin has fond memories of growing up in Khandawli, which was a prosperous village with people celebrating festivals together, attending inter-faith funerals and monetary dealings were done on trust.
It now seems to him a different ecosystem. “Hawaa zehreeli ho gayi hai (the air has turned venomous),” he says referring to the communal atmosphere.
“There was no fear or threat of any kind. Now every altercation, big or small, takes a different colour... People are scared to step out wearing skull caps,” he said.
Since they lost Junaid, the family has not ventured out of Khandawli, except for the court hearings.
Almost everyone they know seems like a stranger.
“We cannot trust anyone,” says Qasim. “All the people in the village speak in our favour when they meet us. But we are not sure if they actually mean it. We cannot blame them. Ours is a Muslim village surrounded by predominantly Hindu hamlets. No one wants to antagonise the majority,” he says.