Noida: On Sunday, at around midnight, 20-year-old Mohammad Sabir was told by the police that they had found the lifeless body of his father, Aftab Alam, tied to the side of his own car.
Sabir wasn’t entirely surprised to hear this, he says. A few hours earlier, he had sensed that something was wrong when he received an unusual call from his father – who didn’t utter a word after he picked up the phone. Sabir heard “drunk” men on the other end of the phone asking his father if he would like to drink. Alam said ‘no’, Sabir heard.
The men then asked him his name, according to Sabir. By then, having sensed that something was wrong, he began recording the call. In the audio file of the call available with The Wire, at 8:39 minutes, one of the men can be heard saying, “Jai Shri Ram bol, bol Jai Shri Ram”.
The chant has become the rallying cry of violent Hindutva action and has preceded several lynchings.
Sabir heard no conversation after that. But 11 minutes later, at the 19:41 minute mark, one of the men can be heard saying, “Saans ruk gayi.” ‘He has stopped breathing.’
“My father had gone to drop one of his old clients at Bulandshahr yesterday at around 3 pm. He made the drop at around 7 pm and left for home. On the way he called me and told me to recharge his Fast Tag. I did that at around 7:30 pm and then after a while I got a call again, I think this was from near a toll booth. He had probably sensed that some men he had come across were not the right sort of people, so he called me and possibly put the mobile phone in his pocket,” said Sabir.
Sabir recorded the call for the next 40 minutes, till his father’s phone apparently switched off. He immediately went to the nearest police station, Mayur Vihar Phase I, and asked for help.
“Sub-inspector Sanjay sir helped me when I told him about the matter. He immediately started tracking my father’s mobile phone and accessed the last location of the SIM card,” said Sabir.
This ‘last location’ was near Badalpur police station, where the police found Aftab Alam’s bruised, lifeless body. He was taken to a nearby hospital.
Sabir broke down upon recalling the sight of his dead father. “His tongue area was badly bruised, ears were bleeding, there was a big cut on his face. This is clearly a case of mob lynching,” he said, using the phrase which has come to symbolise hate crimes in India. “But the police has only registered a robbery case.”
Sabir added, “We are Muslims, but we have a right to live.”
However, the Badalpur police station house officer denied that it was a case of “mob lynching” or “hate crime” and said that the case is being investigated.
The FIR, registered on the same night, charged the anonymous assaulters under sections 394 (voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery) 302 (punishment for murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender).
It is not clear how Alam came across the perpetrators or who and how many they were.
A devoted father, keen on sons’ education
Aftab Alam was a resident of Trilokpuri, Noida had been working as a driver since 1996. Driving was his main livelihood. He has a wife, his three sons, ailing parents and two siblings, all of whom depend on him and Sabir financially.
During the lockdown, Alam had not stepped out due to fear of contracting and spreading the coronavirus, said his family. However, when a family friend, an old client, called him up to ask if he could drop them from Gurgaon to Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, he could not refuse. Having earned no money during the lockdown and struggling to make ends meet, Alam thought that the trip would be a good idea.
Alam’s younger sons, Mohammad Shahid, 19, and Mohammad Shajid, 17, along with Sabir, are bright students who had secured good marks in their board examinations.
Sabir is a third year B.Com student in the School of Open Learning, University of Delhi. Shahid and Shajid study at Ahlcon Public School in Mayur Vihar, and they scored 76% and 92% marks respectively in their Class 10 board examinations.
Alam’s father, 65-year-old Mohammad Tahir, said, “Had it been a case of robbery, why wouldn’t they take the car? They would have stolen the car and thrown his body out on the street. This was clearly a case of mob lynching. They only took the mobile phone.”
Shahid is preparing for his NEET exams and said his father’s only goal was to make sure that his children get a good education.
“I am a student who studies in a good school through the Economically Weaker Sections quota. Even during this health crisis, my father had managed to pay our fees with his minimal earnings. My brother, Shajid is preparing for the JEE next year,” said Shahid.
“In his career as a driver, he never had one fight with anybody. He went to work, came back home, invested in his sons’ education and that was it. He never even visited other people’s houses because he spent all his time earning money for us,” he added.
Pointing to the kitchen in his house, he said, “At this time, we are short of ration at home but look at my bookshelf. My father, despite not having enough money to manage food for the house, bought me books and notebooks worth Rs 1,800.”
Shajid, the youngest son and the “brightest” according to the family said, “When we both got our Class 10 results, Shahid had secured lesser marks than me. But my father took out a note of Rs 1,000 and asked us to take Rs 500 each, without giving me preference for securing better marks. He showed faith in both of us and knew that he [Shahid] would also make him proud someday.”
Alam’s mother, 60-year-old Najmu Nisa wondered how the house would function now.
Alam’s wife, Rehana Khatoon, 36, had only come to know of his death on Monday afternoon. Khatoon said she wanted justice for her husband. Consoling his mother Shahid said he would find a way of securing that. “I will speak to my teachers at school, they will come up with a solution. What has happened has happened. Now we will deal with what happens,” the 19-year-old said.
Alam’s last rites were performed at 5.30 pm on Monday.