India: Families of those shot in Prophet row protest seek justice

Ranchi, India – When tens of thousands of parents in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand were celebrating the success of their children in the high school examination, there was a deafening silence in the house of Parwez Alam and Nikhat Perween.

Their only son Mudassir Alam had passed the state board exams with flying colours – securing 67 percent marks in the results announced on Wednesday.

But the 15-year-old was not home to celebrate with them.

Mudassir was allegedly shot dead by the police on June 10 during the protests in the state capital, Ranchi, over derogatory remarks made against Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha by members of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

As relatives and well-wishers gathered at his house, only Nikhat’s sobs and the consoling words of her husband Parwez, who sells fruits on a pushcart for a living, could be heard in their rented one-room house in Hindpiri, a densely-populated lower middle-class predominantly Muslim neighbourhood behind Ranchi’s main market.

“My wife and I hoped that one day our son would acquire a good education, which would improve our financial situation. But the bullet of hatred took him away from us forever,” Parvez told Al Jazeera.

Nearly a month ago, Nupur Sharma, now suspended BJP spokeswoman, made offending remarks against the Prophet during a primetime debate on one of India’s leading news channels. Sharma’s comments were soon backed by another BJP official, Naveen Kumar Jindal, who tweeted in her support and made similar anti-Islam remarks.

The remarks set off protests across the country and triggered a diplomatic backlash against New Delhi after a number of Muslim-majority countries, mainly in the Arab world that usually enjoy close relations with India, summoned Indian envoys and demanded an apology.

In neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan, thousands hit the streets, demanding Muslim nations boycott Indian products and cut off ties with India. The US condemned the remarks too.

The BJP, in a damage control mode, suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal, issuing a rare statement saying it “strongly denounces insults of any religious personalities” and asking its spokespeople to be “extremely cautious” on religious matters in TV debates.

But the moves failed to placate the Muslims, who had already been facing relentless hate speech and attacks by BJP leaders and Hindu supremacist groups allied with the right-wing party since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.

On June 10, thousands of Muslims demonstrated in several cities after the Friday congregational prayers, demanding the arrest of the two BJP leaders for their Islamophobic remarks.

A similar protest was held that day in Hindpiri.

While the police allege the protesters threw stones at them, the area’s residents say the police fired at protesters without any warning, killing Mudassir and Sahil Ansari, 24, on the spot.

Dozens of protesters were injured, some critically, such as Afsar Alam, 19, who was pumped with six bullets by the police. Alam is still admitted in a hospital and since the police have a case against him, he will be sent to jail upon recovery.

How is it that we are the ones to get the bullets, get beaten up, and also the ones to go to jail?

by Sarfaraz Alam, Father of teen shot by police

‘I saw him collapse’

Recalling the day he lost his son, Parwez said: “I had called Mudassir to my cart after the prayers. Meanwhile, the crowd began to swell on the road. Seeing the crowd, I started moving my cart to the other side of the road to protect it from getting damaged in the protest.”

“As I began to push it, I saw Mudassir standing in the middle of the road with the crowd. I was looking at him when he collapsed due to the bullet in a matter of seconds,” he told Al Jazeera as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Nikhat said her husband has not gone out to sell fruits since their son’s killing.

“On June 10, my husband went out to sell fruits for the last time. He has not stepped out since our son’s death. He says the one he used to earn for is no longer alive, so for whom should I work?” she told Al Jazeera.

“It feels as if my Mudassir is standing with his 10th mark-sheet and wants to hug me. He would always express his happiness this way,” the mother said.

Nikhat said Mudassir wanted to land a government job and would study hard for it.

“Seeing the board results, I am unable to stop recalling this. Now there is only one reason left for me to be alive: to get justice for my son,” she said.

To seek justice, the families of Mudassir and Sahil need to register a first information report (FIR) with the police. But the families say the police were refusing to do so and had instead filed charges even against the two dead youths.

“We go to the police station every day but return disappointed. There is no one to hear us. It is utterly sad that the deceased and injured have also been charged by the police. Now we will have to learn to deal with these cases along with our miserable lives,” Mudassir’s uncle Shahid Alam told Al Jazeera.

When Al Jazeera asked the police about it, Ashish Gupta, a deputy inspector general of police in Ranchi, said a special investigation team (SIT) has been constituted to investigate the June 10 violence.

“All the cases are being investigated by the same. So the investigation is still going on,” he said.

When asked why the FIRs on the two killings have not been registered, Gupta admitted the police had received written applications from the two families.

“But there has already been an FIR in that matter which is part of the SIT investigation … Till now more than 30 FIRs have been registered in the whole case.”

We go to the police station every day but return disappointed. There is no one to hear us.

by Shahid Alam, slain teenager’s uncle

Six bullets in his body

Mohammed Shoaib, elder brother of Ansari who was shot dead with Mudassir on the fateful day, said he makes a meagre 7,000 rupees ($90) a month working in an auto workshop.

“Sahil had just completed his second year of graduation and worked in a mobile shop where he earned about 15,000 rupees [$200] a month. He was a great support to us and a big hope for the future,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It has been hard on my mother, her blood pressure and sugar levels have shot up. She also has cardiac issues. She has been facing breathing issues and heightened anxiety and restlessness since she learned that my deceased brother has also been made an accused.”

Alam, who was shot with six bullets by the police, is being treated at a state-run hospital in Ranchi. He said he was not even a part of the June 10 protest and was merely crossing the streets when he was shot.

“I had nothing to do with the protest. I had my class 11th exams from June 16 so I was going to my college to collect my admit card. On my way, I stopped at the market to buy dry fruits,” he told Al Jazeera, lying on his hospital bed.

“Seeing the protest, the shopkeeper abruptly closed the shop. So I decided to head back home. I was crossing the road when I was first shot. I somehow dragged myself 10 steps forward when I was shot again. After that, I fell unconscious and fainted. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the hospital and came to know that I got six bullets.”

All the bullets lodged in his thigh area have been removed – but not his fears.

“The bullets were fired by the administration, so I am apprehensive about what will happen to us now. Two days ago, the police got all the injured people to sign on blank papers. We were beyond scared and didn’t dare to ask what the papers were about,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Now I am feeling worried about the paper I signed. I fear about my career. I once used to dream of joining the Indian navy, but now I am going to face the scar of going to jail.”

Alam’s father Sarfaraz Alam got emotional as he narrated their plight.

“How is it that we are the ones to get the bullets, get beaten up, and also the ones to go to jail? My son is innocent. I had sent him to get dry fruits,” the 45-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Unconscious since June 10

Nadeem Alam, 27, was shot in the oesophagus area of the neck. He has not regained full consciousness since he was shot, his sister Musarrat Parween told Al Jazeera.

“Nadeem was conscious when he was taken to the operation theatre. He did not regain consciousness after the bullet was removed but he is having frequent seizures. When we talk to the doctor, we hear different statements every time. I feel helpless. I don’t know where to take him and how to ensure good treatment,” she said.

Nadeem Alam is on ventilator at a hospital in Ranchi [Mohammad Sartaj Alam/Al Jazeera]

Dr Pradeep Bhattacharya, who is treating Nadeem, said, “All his body parts are healthy but he is having frequent seizures.”

“This is the main problem. There is a sensitive area in the neck. When surgical work is done in that part, it shrinks. Because of that, oxygen does not flow properly. Something like that must have happened at the time of taking out the bullet. Now he is in a state of unconsciousness. In such condition, MRI is not possible. Therefore, we have referred him to a better hospital,” he told Al Jazeera.

Musarrat said they have pleaded with the ministers and state authorities for better treatment.

“It has been said that he will be sent out for treatment but this seems to be only an assurance,” she said.

“My brother is absolutely innocent. He had gone to market to buy medicine for his niece who was down with fever. But he was shot. Now his name is there in the FIR. We are extremely worried.”

Maulana Qutubuddin Rizvi, who is a prominent religious leader in the city, said such “heart-wrenching incidents” are occurring every few years in Jharkhand in which Muslim youth are being “brutally targeted”.

“Somewhere this reflects the failure of the government and administration,” he told Al Jazeera.

“When a citizen’s religious feelings flare up, he comes on the road to protest. The same thing happened that day. Muslim youth were protesting peacefully. But the attitude of the police was one-sided and brutal. Even AK-47 rifle was used instead of sticks, water cannon or rubber bullets,” he said.

Rizvi said he met the state Chief Minister Hemant Soren and demanded action.

“I told them that targeting a minority by registering cases against thousands of unknown people is an indication of the intention of the administration. This is completely wrong, it is injustice and misuse of law,” he said.

Meanwhile, at Mudassir’s home in Hindpiri, his uncle Shahid Alam is worried about his grieving parents.

“In this period of grief, relatives are visiting my brother and sister-in-law, but it is only a matter of time before they will get busy in their lives. Then Parwez and Nikhat will be all the more lonely.”

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