"Mulleh, Kattale saaley. Maro sabko. Maaro. Maaro": How passengers on a train compartment discarded their humanity

Hashim Khan, a 17-year-old boy from Kadhaoli, sustained multiple injuries on his backbone, hips, arms and around his kidneys. Shahid Tantray
27 June, 2017

“Muslim baad mein, pehle hum Hindustani hain. Hum paida huye Hindustan mein, Hindustan hamara desh hai,”—We are Indians first, and then Muslims. We were born in India, it is our country, Shaaqir Khan, a 20-year-old man from Kadhaoli village in Haryana’s Faridabad district, told me when I met him on the morning of 24 June. “Magarpura train ka dabba bhara hua tha. Sab unki taraf they hamari taraf koi nahi tha.”—Yet, the entire compartment of that train was full of people. Everyone was siding with them [the attackers], no one was siding with us, he continued, with a vacant expression on his face. “Not just the men but every passenger in the coach shouted at us saying, ‘Mulleh, Kattale saaley. Maro sabko. Maaro. Maaro.’”—These Muslims, the circumcised ones. Kill them all. Kill them. Kill them, Shaaqir added.

Two days before I met Shaaqir, his 16-year-old brother, Junaid, had bled to death after a mob of men repeatedly stabbed him while he was aboard a local Mathura-bound passenger train. Junaid was returning home after a trip to Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar, where he had gone to shop for Eid. He was accompanied by his 17-year-old brother Hashim Khan, and two friends from the village, Mohammad Moin and Mohammad Mohsin, who are both 16 years old.

At the trauma centre of the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) in Delhi, Shaaqir was lying listlessly on an angled hospital bed, with his head propped on a pillow. A saline lock was taped to his right hand and another tube, half-filled with blood, was connected to the lower half of his body. A freshly stitched tear below his left ear was covered in braided surgical sutures. Mohsin Khan, Shaaqir’s 20-year-old nephew who shares his name with one of the boys who was assaulted on the train, was present at the hospital as well. He caught my eye as I was looking at the stitches near Shaaqir’s ear. “There are more,” Mohsin said, and cautiously lifted the hospital vest that Shaaqir was wearing, revealing the multiple stitched wounds that were scattered across his body.

Shaaqir could only move his head as he spoke to me in a low voice. Hashim had sustained wounds too, Shaaqir told me, and had been discharged from AIIMS a day before I had gone to the hospital. The incident, he said, had taken place between the railway station at Okhla and Asaoti station. Shaaqir had not accompanied his brothers and their friends to Sadar Bazaar, nor was he with them when they boarded the train at around 5.30 pm. But during the commute, Hashim and Junaid placed a frantic call to Shaaqir. They told him that they were surrounded by a group of passengers who were were slapping them, calling them Pakistanis, and subjecting them to an assortment of communal slurs. Junaid and Hashim asked Shaaqir to fetch them and their friends from the station at Ballabgarh—where they were to alight to reach their homes in Kadhaoli.

When Shaaqir reached the station with his nephew Mohsin, and Mustakim, a friend of his, at around 6.40 pm, he anticipated that they would have to resolve a minor quarrel. But once he boarded the coach from which he could hear the cries of his brothers spill out, he realised that he was wrong.

Before he could process the scene that he was witnessing, Shaaqir was pulled inside the couch by the feverish passengers. Mohsin and Mustakim were unable to get in, and boarded another compartment. Both Mohsin, and Mustakim—whom I met later—told me that the crowd was so thick that they could not reach the coach in which their friends and family were being attacked.

Meanwhile, in the confusion that ensued once Shaaqir got on to the train, Moin and Mohsin slipped away from the crowd. Shaaqir said, “I don’t know where. Maybe below the chairs, may be in the next coaches. They were all kids.” Shaaqir was later told that Moin jumped off the train at Ballabgarh station, while Mohsin hid in a separate coach.

Egged on by the passengers on the train, the men, Shaaqir said, began stabbing his brothers and him. He believed that the reason behind this assault was the visible Muslim identity that he, his brothers and their friends shared. During the entire period, Shaaqir said, no railway police officials, if there were any stationed in the train, came to the coach. (When I met Kamal Deep Goyal, the superintendent of police of the Haryana Railway Police, he told me that no police officials were present on the train. He added that they would be focusing now, on increasing security within passenger trains.)

At Asaoti railway station, which is around 15 kilometres away from the station at Ballabgarh, Shaaqir, Hashim and Junaid—who had succumbed to his injuries by then—were thrown off the coach by the passengers who had assaulted them. At the hospital, Mohsin, Shaaqir’s nephew, showed me an image that had been widely circulated on social media. In the picture, Shaaqir lay in Hashim’s arms, both of them soaked in blood, on the platform of the station.

Mohsin told me he realised what had happened once Mustakim and he got off the train at Asaoti. They made their way towards the three brothers. Junaid had died by then, Shaaqir was unconscious, and Hashim was sitting on the platform, holding his injured brother. From Mohsin’s account, it appeared that those at the station did little apart from making photographs of the gruesome scene. “Arey hum mein itni insaniyat hai ki hum kissi ko marta na dekhen,”—we have enough humanity to not be able to see someone dying, Mohsin said. “Magar wahan koi saafi dene ko bhi taiyaar nahi tha, Shaaqir ka khoon rokne k liye”—but there, no one was willing to give us even a scarf to stop Shaaqir’s bleeding—he told me, “Wo bhi logon se cheen ki li humne,”—that too, we had to snatch from someone.

Mohsin said that some policemen were standing at a distance of barely 100 metres from them, but did not respond to their calls for help either. The police officials grudgingly walked towards the young men, he said, only after they beseeched them for assistance. An ambulance reached around 45 minutes after they had alighted at the station. Mohsin said, “The police didn’t lend a hand to get him [Shaaqir] out of the railway station. I carried Shaaqir on my shoulder across the foot-over bridge and then out of the station. Hashim walked to the ambulance with Mustakim’s help.”

Shaaqir and Hashim were first taken to, and admitted in a government hospital in Palwal, which is close to 14 kilometres away from Asaoti. At the hospital, the police officials initiated the procedure for the post-mortem of Junaid’s body. Mohsin said that the doctors at the hospital were sluggish in their response. Frustrated by the delay, he attempted to stitch some of the wounds on Shaaqir’s body himself.

After visiting Shaaqir and Mohsin, I went to the Government Railway Police station at Faridabad. Inside the station, I spotted a balding man sitting in the investigation room, who looked to be in his mid-thirties. His appearance reminded me of a man Shaaqir had described to me as one of his attackers.

As I waited to meet Kamal Deep Goyal, the superintendent of police, Junaid’s father, Mohammad Jalalulddin Khan, was standing outside the station. He was accompanied by Hashim, and around 20 people from Kadhaoli. Jalaluddin said that Hashim had been called by the police to identify a suspect and complete some procedural work before the accused person was taken to court that day.

Junaid and Hashim had been pursuing Islamic studies at madrasas in Mewat and Surat, respectively, for the past two years. They had aspired, he said, to acquire the title of a mufti—one of the highest positions for teachers of Islamic studies. The duo would come home once a year, during Ramzan, and would leave after Eid. Their return tickets, Jalaluddin said, had been booked for a week later. He told me that Shaaqir had taken up the same profession as him, and was a driver.  “I had told him not to follow me and get some other job but perhaps that was what he could do,” Jalaluddin said.

The villagers who accompanied Jalaluddin and Hashim told me that the both Hashim and Junaid were peace-loving and did not quarrel with anyone in the neighbourhood. In the village, Junaid, who was also known as a hafiz—a Muslim who knows the Koran by heart—had already gained repute as a promising religious scholar. While he was on vacation during Ramzaan, Mohammad Chand, a resident of Kadhaoli told me, Junaid would recite the Koran for people in the village. “Baccha din bhar Koran padta tha aur shaam ko mujabani taravion mein logo ko sunata tha”—the child [Junaid] would read the Koran through the day and recite it to a gathering of people in the evening after they had broken their fasts, Chand told me. Another villager, Khursheed Mohammad, recounted that Junaid had also recited the Koran to some villagers the night before the incident. Junaid, Khursheed said, had taken the money that he had received from them to Delhi, so that he could buy new clothes for Eid.

Hashim, who like his father, was dressed in a kurta-pyjama and wore a skull cap, looked shaken. He had sustained injuries on his backbone, hips, arms and around his kidneys. When I asked him about the assault and the men who orchestrated it, he told me, Junaid, Moin, Mohsin and he were in their compartment and playing Ludo through a mobile phone app. “Okhla se woh chadey they, 25 bandey. Duty karne wale bhi lagtey hain woh—They had boarded the train at Okhla. All of them looked like they were employed.” Junaid, he said, was standing when the men entered. One of them shoved him so hard that he fell to the floor.

When the boys protested, the men started pushing them too. Hashim said, “Unohne mere sar se topi fenki, kaha ‘Tum mulle ho, kattulle ho. Gai ka gosh khate ho. Fir jab daadhi pakadne ki koshish ki, humne unko roka. jab humne roka toh 25 bandon ne hummey mara. Hum chaar the.”—They pushed my skull cap off my head, and said, “You are Muslims, you are circumsised. You eat the meat of a cow. Then when they tried to hold my beard, I stopped them. That’s when those 25 men starting hitting us. There were four of us.”

Hashim said that the passengers refused to let the four boys go. They called them Pakistanis, and the people in the train encouraged the men to beat the teenagers. He said that they were slapped and kicked from all sides. Hashim told me that the four boys tried to run towards the gate when Ballabgarh station arrived, but were pushed back by the passengers. This is when Shaaqir was pulled in.

The train had hardly started again, and was crossing through a railway bridge, Hashim said, when one of the men drew out a knife and started stabbing Shaaqir, Junaid and him. Both Shaaqir and he were unable to recall how many men among the mob were carrying weapons and stabbing them. They both, said that they were only semi-conscious after they were stabbed. Through the entire duration of this attack, Hashim said, the crowd cheered the assaulters and taunted the three brothers with communal slurs.

At this juncture, Mohammed Afaaq, a young man who was standing with Hashim outside the station, interrupted. He said, “Usme humari galti kya hai agar humara libaas unse milta hai. Humara qusoor kya hai. Taariq uthakar dekhen toh pata chal jayega Musalmano ne is desh ke liye kya kiya hai.”—how is it our fault that our attire is similar to theirs [people from Pakistan]. What is our crime. If one were too look through the pages of history, one would realise how much Muslims have done for this country. “Magar ab afsos hota hai jab log humein is tarah se dekhtey hain.”—But now, it is disappointing to know that this is how people view us, he said.

Mohammad Naushaad, a young man who had also accompanied Hashim and Jalaluddin, told me that he had experienced similarly discriminatory behaviour in December 2016. Naushaad had gotten off a train at Ballabgarh late at night and was walking home, since there were no vehicles in sight. He recalled that he was wearing his skull cap that night.

As he was walking, an auto-driver pulled over and offered to drop him home. Once he got in, Naushaad told me, the driver and two other men, who were already sitting in the auto, held him by his beard and slapped him. They called him a Pakistani, and Katulle—circumcised. After assaulting him, the men dropped Naushaad in the middle of the road. That night, as he walked home alone, Naushaad was scared of any vehicle that passed by him.

While we were talking, the sub-inspector of the station came out and called Hashim in. His father and the villagers followed him inside. Soon after, Goyal called for me too.

Goyal told me that he had arrested one suspect, but refused to divulge his name and identity on ground that it may weaken the investigation. He said that the apprehended man had told him that he was drunk that night and that when he boarded the train, a group of men were already attacking the four boys. I asked Goyal whether the suspect had acted on his own or with the other members of the mob. According to the man, Goyal said, although he did not know any of the others who were involved in the attack, he could recognise them if they were brought for identification since most of the men were regular passengers. According to Goyal, the attackers were all Hindu men who were employed at factories in Okhla.

Goyal told me that the attack was spontaneous and had erupted over the availability of seats. He was unable to offer an explanation regarding the manner in which the entire compartment colluded during the attack, or for the weapons that were used during the attack.  “Dekhiye ab train mein toh ye sab hota hai. Log religious remarks kartey hi hain,”—See, in trains, all this happens. People make religious remarks, he said, in response to my question about whether this was an instance of a hate crime. I wondered whether he had seen such a brutal case of assault springing from an argument over seats before. “Not recently,” he said.

Mohinder Singh, the deputy superintendent of the station, told me that there are no CCTV cameras at either Asaoti or Okhla. Since most of the compartments in the train in which the boys were travelling have unreserved seats, ascertaining the identity of the assaulters would be an uphill task in the absence of any CCTV footage. However, Goyal claimed that the police had its own means of reaching the suspects, which he could not reveal to me.

I asked Goyal whether the police had been able to seize any of the weapons that were used. He responded in the negative. This time, he appended his reply with a request. “Dekhiye ye sab baat media mein mat likhiye. Is se humara investigation kharab ho jata hai. fir hum officers media se baat karna band kar dete hain isliye,”—Look, please don’t write about all this in the media. This is how our investigation will be hampered, and then officers like us will stop speaking with the media because of instances like this, he said.  By the time our conversation was over, Jalaluddin, Hashim and the other villagers from Kadhaoli had already left.

I left for Kadhaoli too. A hall that faced the alley in which Junaid’s house was located, was full of people who had come to console the bereaved family. At Junaid’s house, I met his mother, Saira.  She was sitting on a bed in a small guest room, and was surrounded by around 20 other middle-aged women.

Saira told me that Junaid had asked her for some money a night before the incident, so that he could go to Delhi and shop for Eid. Junaid and Hashim had left after Sehri—the meal eaten before sunrise during Ramzaan—and had gone for namaz to a nearby mosque. Soon after, they left for Delhi with their friends, at around 5 am. “Wahi aakhiri baar dekha maine ussey,”—that was when I saw him [Junaid] last, Saira said.

Saira told me that she heard of Junaid’s death during iftar, when some of the boys from the village called her. She told me, while sobbing, “Uske abba ko dil ki bimari thi, main uss shaam unko nahi batayi ki baccha mar gaya hai. Main boli kuch jhagda hua hai,”—His [Junaid’s] father has a disease of the heart, so I did not tell him that evening that the child has died. I just said that there had been a fight. Shaariq has a wife and two children, who were present in the house as well. His wife was crying inconsolably. In a small courtyard that is a part of the house, the Koran that Junaid used to read from was laid open upon a plank.

Outside the community hall, I met a 14-year-old boy called Afzal Khan. Afzal told me that he was a friend of Junaid’s and described him as “hasmukh”—jovial.  He told me that after Junaid had visited Agra, Afzal asked him to describe Taj Mahal to him. Afzal said that Junaid had replied, “tu bas puchi ja”—you just keep asking, and then burst into laughter.

During the course of our conversation, Afzal recounted all the recent instances in which Muslims had been killed in similar acts of mob violence. He noted that Muslims who had been lynched for the alleged possession of cows, were often implicated as the accused persons themselves as well. “Agar Musalmaan ne mara hota na toh Army chad jaati humare upar. Aur jab ek Musalmaan mara hai toh koi karwayi nahi.”—If a Muslim had killed someone, then the army would have been all over us. And when a Muslim is killed, there seems to be no investigation,” he said.

Kadhaoli is represented by a Bharatiya Janata Party member of parliament, Krishna Pal Gurjar, who is also a union minister of state for the ministry of social justice and empowerment. The villagers told me neither he nor any other BJP leader had visited so far. I called the MP to ask if he would visit the village or announce any compensation for the families. His personal secretary Vikas, answered the phone. He said, “Mantri ji toh ek event mein busy hain. Baad mein kariye.”—The minister is busy in an event, call him later.  I asked Vikas whether Gurjar would visit the village or announce compensation. Vikas said, “Abhi prashahan ko kaam karne dijiye. Fir dekhtey hain.”—For now, let the state administration do its work, then we will see.

But the state administration’s response in matters such as this has been equally opaque. On 27 April this year, I had filed an application under the Right to Information Act with the Prime Minister’s Office, asking for the details of any meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had convened to discuss the killings of Muslims in India. I had also asked the prime minister’s office for information regarding the instructions, if any, that it had given to the home ministry to curtail vigilante groups and lynchings in the country. On 26 May, the PMO responded to my second question, stating that it could not be answered as my question was a “matter of opinion.” The office sent the first query to the cabinet secretariat for a response.

In its reply on 13 June, the cabinet secretariat, stated that it had sent my application to the Ministry of Home Affairs as it would be in a position to respond to my question. (I had already sent a separate application to the home ministry on 27 April, asking it for information on the steps that it had taken to stop the lynchings.) The ministry, on 19 June, informed me that the application had been sent to one of its divisions as it was a matter that came under the purview of this division. It has been two months since, and no other response has been forthcoming so far.

At Kadhaoli, Afzal took me to Moin’s house. Moin was not at home. Afzal told me that he was probably at the mosque. “Woh abhi ghabraya hua hai. Din bhar masjid mein baitha rehta hai”—He is frightened right now. He spends his entire day in the mosque, Afzal said. I was unable to speak to Mohsin as well. His brother Ameer told me that since the incident, Mohsin has been quiet and had confined himself to staying at home.

Near the community hall, I met a man who told me that his name was Mohammad Iqbal. He said that he worked at a private firm in Gurgaon, because of which he travelled through the local train frequently. I asked him if he was worried about commuting now. Iqbal said he attracted the attention of several people whenever he wore a kurta-pyjama. Since the BJP government had come to power, he had stopped keeping a beard, wearing a kurta-pyjama or his skull cap, so that his identity would not be distinct in a crowd. “Dilon mein dehsat toh thi hi pehle, magar ab wo haqeeqat mein badal gayi hai,”—We were terrified even before, but now, our worst fear has been realised, Iqbal said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that both Junaid and Hashim were studying in Surat. Junaid was studying in Mewat, while Hashim was studying in Surat. The Caravan regrets the error.