“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.