“I want to cry. This is wrong,” Sarla Devi, 70, who is Alam’s next-door neighbour, says. “I do not know what they get from forcing people to chant ”Jai Shree Ram.”
Zafar Aafaq | NEW DELHI
A pall of gloom has descended on Block 35, Trilokpuri, a mixed neighbourhood of Hindus and Muslims in East Delhi. A stretch of the lane is filled with men and a few women sitting on chairs, with their heads downcast, mourning the loss of the locality’s “most gentle” resident.
At around 7 pm, Aftab Alam dropped Parul Sharma in Bulandshahr and left for home in Trilokpuri. Some 30 km on the highway, he made a phone call to his son Mohd Sabir, 21, and asked him to recharge his highway toll tag.
Minutes later, Alam again called Sabir to tell him that his toll tag was not working. He paid Rs 120 there. He did not drop the call but kept mum. Instead, Sabir heard some chatter from the other end and learnt that his father was talking with some men inside his cab.
“After a couple of minutes, I started recording the call,” said Sabir who felt something ominous. “They were using invectives and also asking my father about his religion.”
Sabir says the men forced his father to give them a lift. He claims they were drunk and were trying to force Alam to drink. He told them he was Muslim to which they said they knew Muslims who drink.
After 8 minutes into the recording, the men ask Alam to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’. Sabir says his father agreed as he said the slogan translates as ‘Glory to Ram’. After about 45 minutes the call dropped.
Distraught by anxiety, Sabir incessantly dialled Alam’s number; “over 50 times in half an hour.” His phone was ringing but there was no response.
Sabir, his grandfather and an uncle hurried to the police station near their home in Mayur Puri. But, Sabir says, the duty officer was unfriendly. “He did not help much despite repeated pleas. He told us to call the police station on our own.”
Then after some time, a plainclothes officer Sanjay came who heard them patiently and also helped with tracking the Alam’s phone close to Chitera village in district Gautam Budha Nagar.
At around 10 pm, they drove towards Bulandshahr. When they reached near Chitera around midnight, Sabir recounts, he saw two cops standing near a cab which he identified as his father’s.
The cops told them that their father had received mild injuries and he was undergoing treatment in hospital but the cops asked them to report at the Badlapur police station first.
The policemen questioned Sabir for an hour despite his repeated requests to be allowed to meet his father. “They made us wait for long before taking us to the hospital.”
At the hospital, they were struck by trauma when hospital staff showed a fully-wrapped body. When Sabir removed the cover from his face, it was his father.
“I cannot describe what I saw. His head had two deep gashes, on front and back, blood was oozing from his ears, his throat had strangulation marks,” Sabir sobs, his eyes welled up, while recalling.
Later, the police recorded the ‘Panchnama’. “After seeing my father’s body, we were traumatised and I do not know what the police wrote in the complaint that time.”
Thereafter they, along with Alam’s body, were taken to a mortuary in Sector 94, Noida. The body was handed over to the family after almost 12 hours after the post mortem.
Alam was buried at the graveyard after Asr prayers.
On Tuesday morning, neighbours Sarla Devi and Krishna were seen consoling Najm-un-Nissa, Alam’s mother, while their own eyes were moist. “I want to cry. This is wrong,” Devi, 70, who is Alam’s next-door neighbour, says. “I do not know what they get from forcing people to chant ‘”Jai Shree Ram.”
“When I heard he had been murdered, I cried a lot,” She describes Alam as the “most gentle man” of the locality. “I have never heard him shout or quarrel with anyone.”
Alam’s family comes from Bihar while Devi hails from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. The two families have been neighbours for over 25 years. They share their happiness and grief with one another. “We live in peace and together observe our festivals, be it Holi, Eid or Diwali,” says Alam’s brother Tasleem. “We have had peace here even in the days of Delhi riots in February”.
The neighbourhood respected Alam for giving quality education to his sons. In Alam’s death, the family lost a caretaker who wanted his sons to go ahead in life. “My father was working hard to pay for our quality education,” says Sabir whose two brothers are undergoing coaching for admission in top medical and engineering colleges.
‘We Want Justice’
The police have filed a case in the Badlapur police station under FIR No. 0371 and invoked Sections 302 for murder and 394 for robbery.
The police did not treat it as a case of hate crime but the family says, Alam was killed because he was a Muslim. “The call recording shows they were forcing him to chant Hindu slogans,” says Sabir and asserts that this is a crucial evidence to prove that his father was “lynched” by an organised “gang of extremists.”
Sabir says that there were no marks of violence on the car. “Everything inside the car was in order,” he says, “My father was dragged down and then beaten brutally to death.”
But the police told them they recovered the lifeless Alam on the front passenger seat with the seat belt tied. But the family is not ready to accept this claim. “It is possible that cops have put him in that seat. Where would the assailants have the time to get to do that after murder, ” they ask.
Sabir says that a police officer called and told him that he had photographs of the three men suspected of being involved in the murder. “Police have also retrieved CCTV footage from the toll plaza which shows one of the men getting down from the cab. He is seen donning a checked shirt.”
The family insists that the police should investigate it as a case of hate crime. “We are planning to file a fresh complaint of mob lynching,” says Sabir. “We want Justice.”
The story first appeared in the clarionindia.net