Phone calls from home were a routine affair. Whenever his younger brother Danish, a 22-year-old man full of life, verve and humour, used to call Mohammad Sartaj, it was a kind of ritual for the two brothers to crack a joke before moving on to other topics. Life with the Indian Air Force had left Sartaj, a corporal based in Chennai, with little time to interact with his family living in faraway Bisada village in Uttar Pradesh. It was usually late in the evening when he got calls from his family. So, when his sister’s number flashed on his mobile on the night of 28 September, he had no idea that it would change his life forever.
While his finger touched the incoming call receiving button, he had no clue that he was going to receive the worst possible news. He had lost his father to a bloodthirsty mob.
“They will kill all of us. They have killed Abbu. Please do something, brother,” that is all his sister managed to say while shouting and sobbing at the same time. “I could hear a commotion in the backdrop,” says Sartaj, while struggling with the quiver in his voice and the tears in his eyes.
He tries his best to put up a brave face even as his father has been lynched and his brother is barely hanging on to life. Danish is getting treated at a Noida hospital and, at the time of going to press, his condition was still critical.
After the call from his sister, Sartaj gathered himself and called the local police station at Bisada asking for help. “They dismissed my call as just another routine call. I made several calls, but all in vain,” Sartaj tells TEHELKA while sitting on a low stool next to his brother’s bed. “I also called the emergency numbers for the ambulance service in Noida, but they refused to oblige.”
Meanwhile, he received incessant frantic calls from his sister pleading for help. “I never felt so helpless in my life,” he recalls. “I died many times that night. At around 4 am in the morning, I got a final call confirming that Abbu is no more.”
Sartaj knows that once a tear rolls down from his eye, it won’t be easy for him to hold back, and he doesn’t want to cry and traumatise his brother even more. Danish, battling for life, is yet to come to terms with the fact that the mob killed their father in front of his eyes.
Sartaj says that his Abbu was his role model. “Sometimes, I used to wonder how a man who saw so much adversity never gave up hope,” he recalls. “He never let the family fall apart even during the toughest of times. He always taught us that no religion is above humanity. It was such a man that the fanatics killed that night.”
Akhlaq had earlier volunteered to work for the construction of a boundary wall and a gate for the temple near their home. “I can never imagine that the same people who used to be part of our celebrations would one day kill my father,” says Sartaj.
“My faith in humanity is still intact, but only in a very general way. I cannot trust our neighbours and the other villagers anymore, and that is why I plan to take my family to Chennai. Some of the accused were born after me in the village. I have seen them growing up. My brother is of the same age group.”
Sartaj’s sister had told him that their father was dead even before the van could take him from the village to the hospital in Noida. “But the mob didn’t spare even the lifeless body,” says Sartaj. “They pelted bricks at the van carrying my father from the village to the hospital.”
Danish’s medical condition is the immediate cause of worry for the airman. “My brother was a bright student,” he says. “Just a few days ago he applied for all the competitive examinations he was eligible for. But he was fascinated by the Indian Army and wanted to join as an officer. He was about to sit for the Combined Defence Service (CDS) examination.”
A week after the incident, Danish is slowly responding to treatment. The doctors, though, fear that even if he recovers he might have to struggle with partial amnesia. “He has life-threatening head injuries. The mob that killed my father also crushed my brother’s dream.”
A smile plays on Sartaj’s lips as he recalls the days he spent with Danish. “He was a live wire. It was difficult to hold back your laughter in his company,” he recalls. “You needed just a few moments to break into laughter as his humour was so infectious.”
Sartaj tells TEHELKA that the mob fury was anything but spontaneous. “I don’t remember a single incident of communal discord in the village,” he says. “Those who want to divide the village on the basis of religion must have planned the attack well in advance. I don’t wish to blame any particular party, but I sincerely wish that my father’s killers are meted out exemplary punishment. Meanwhile, the politicians should not further vitiate the atmosphere in the village. I appeal to all to maintain harmony. Politicians can come and share our grief, but they should not play politics over our blood.”
Clearly, it would take more than the murderous actions of a few fanatics to make Sartaj lose faith in the country whose air force he serves. “I will keep on serving my nation with the same zeal as that is how our father brought us up,” he says and leaves for his evening namaz.