I am Junaid and where will my despair take me?
‘I will go to Jama Masjid with my brothers. Ammi, give me my Eidi as I’m 15-years-old and I can choose my own clothes. Ammi please’, said Junaid Khan.
A few hours later this bright, happy, child from a village near Ballabhgarh in Haryana’s Faridabad district was stabbed to death while he was on his way back home after buying a new pair of shoes and kurta. His fault? — He was young, wore a namazi cap, had a hint of a beard, and was looking happy in the company of his brothers. Junaid’s fault was that he was a Muslim.
In 1951 Zakir Husain, later the President of India, wrote a foreword to my book You Have to Learn to Make Friends: “A child goes out to play in the garden and is stung by a wasp. That is an experience but it leads nowhere... A child goes out to play with other children and they do not want her. That is an experience which, if misunderstandings are not soon cleared, would have agitated the mind and disturbed the values of life.”
He then goes on to write about my story and then comes his shattering conclusion; those words written 65 year ago are a clarion call for India: ‘May the simple childlike beauty of this story help people understand each other better and to realise the reality of a comradeship that extends beyond space and time.’
My story was based on my own experience. In 1951, the wounds of Partition were still afresh. Children in the playground, when they learnt that I was a Muslim, refused to play with me. “Go away, we won’t play with you,” a nine-year-old said. They became emblazoned in my heart and it took years to wear off. Today I know for certain that if this incident happened 65 years later when India is at the cusp of celebrating its 75 year of independence, I would have been stabbed to death for being a Muslim.
For the last few days, my Hindu friends have been requesting that I pray for Junaid. The collective conscience of the nation has been stirred and silent protests are being planned all over the country. If we decide and act this could develop into something similar to the outpouring of emotion and anger that was seen across India after the 2012 December gang rape in Delhi.
I no longer recognise this country as the one my parents taught me to love. In my school we celebrated all religions, national heroes and heroines, languages, and cultures. Looking back, we were tiny rainbows running around throwing our hues all around in our family, our neighbourhood and wherever we went in the world.
All of that today is awash with one colour.
The fact that a news headline ‘Accused of carrying beef, teen killed in train’ is followed by a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding hands with the presidential candidate, flanked by two seniors, LK Advani and MM Joshi, both accused in the Babri masjid demolition case, speaks volumes for what this country has become. What does it matter to Jalauddin and Saira, Junaid’s parents, if Modi meets the US president to discuss strategic issues? Their child was knifed by vigilantes who will kill Muslims with impunity, whether they are on a train or on the road or in their house or in the fields because the word ‘Beef’ has now become a license to kill without fear of the consequences.
The consequences of these developments will be dreadful in the long run. The killers may be protected by the State or be let off with a light sentence . But where will the despair of Junaid’s family be vented? Today Junaid’s family is not only his parents and siblings but all of us. We all are Junaid. I am Junaid and where will my despair take me? As we all will be seen coming out on the streets, how many Junaids will they knife?
It time to remember Sahir Ludhianvi’s lines: Zulm phir zulm hai badhta hai to ttham jaata hai / Khoon phir khoon hai tapke ga to jum jayega. (Oppression is after all oppression; if it goes up, it will stop; / Blood is after all blood; once it spills, it will be frozen.)
Junaid’s blood has now congealed forever.
Syeda Hameed is an educationist, women’s rights activist, and a former member of the Planning Commission of India
The views expressed are personal