NIKITA JAIN & MEGHNA PRAKASH
Reporting takes us to places of tragedies, but no matter how many times we go to such places, it is hard to get used to dealing with those who fall victim to such tribulation, such as Shahrukh Tyagi, a well-mannered and confident young man we met on 18 October 2022.
We met Shahrukh, 28, when he was on his way to meet the sub-divisional magistrate or tehsildar in the town of Baghpat in western Uttar Pradesh. It had been 15 days since his father, Dawood, 50, had been lynched by a Hindu mob for unclear reasons.
Since his father was beaten to death and 13 of the alleged assailants were still at large, Shahrukh had been provided with a police bodyguard. Shahrukh said he was satisfied with police investigations, which had led to four arrests.
A graduate of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, preparing for business administration exams that would, hopefully, launch him into a career as a government official, Shahrukh knew his rights and, so, was chosen by his family as their representative before officialdom.
When he sat before the SDM, along with some village elders, a woman called Apoorva Yadav, we were with him and witnessed how even a son in mourning could not get the hard edge off this representative of the state government.
Her colleagues had promised Shahrukh compensation and a job when they met him a few days after the murder, perhaps as recompense for a deadly incident that they did not want to declare a “communal incident”. Dawood, a wheat farmer, was the family’s sole earning member.
“More than my father’s death, it is this process to merely get the compensation that is giving me trauma,” Shahrukh said to Yadav. “I do not care about your money. I want respect. I lost my father because he was murdered.”
Yadav’s attitude was less than helpful, and she refused to stand by the commitment her colleagues—her predecessor and the police investigating officer—had made.
At one point, Yadav started to laugh. “I am laughing at the situation and not at the tragedy,” she told Shahrukh, who, stressed, tried to speak, looked like he was about to cry and ended up staring at her.
“Promises made verbally have no value,” she said dismissively.
Recalling the day when the two officials made promises to him in their home village of Vinaipur, 540 km north of state capital Lucknow, Shahrukh said he felt pressured to accept their offer and gave in, thinking a job would be good for the family since they now had no one to bring in money.
It was later in Vinaipur, a Muslim-majority village, that Shahrukh and others recalled the night of 2 September at 10.30 pm when 20 men on motorcycles attacked his father with bamboo sticks and country-made handguns.
Everyone escaped except Dawood. One of those who witnessed the brutal beating the men delivered was 18-year-old Lubna, Shahrukh’s sister. She shivered when we asked her about that day, but she had narrated the story often enough, so she recounted what happened in a flat, mechanical tone.
“I still can’t get over that night,” she said, her soft voice barely audible after we switched off the camera. “I cannot sleep. He died in front of me.” The eldest of three brothers and a sister, Shahrukh, looked on, dazed, as might be expected of a young man on whose shoulders familial burdens had unexpectedly fallen.
“I was preparing for public administration, but that has been on hold,” she said, crestfallen. “Besides studies and tending to our farm, nothing else mattered.”
What shook us was the reaction from their neighbours in the village of Bagot, a km away. They were Hindu Gurjars, and this is where the attackers had come from. There was tragedy here, too but of a different kind.
When we entered the homes of one of the accused, Dilip, and said we were reporters, his father ran away. His mother, Rajini, looked battered and beaten. “Hume nahin pata kuch bhi (I don’t know anything),” she said to any question. “Mere bete ki zindagi kharab ho rahi hai, bas (My son’s life is being ruined, that’s all)”.
We assumed this reluctance was related to a 14 October BBC story, in which Jayavati, a grandmother of one of the accused, Nikki, had said that she was sad that her grandson was arrested but that he had to “repent” for his deed. “I am sad he is in jail,” she had said. “But then why did he take someone’s life?”
Dawood’s lynching was a good example of how the peace has been shredded in numerous UP villages over recent years. There was never any trouble previously between Hindus and Muslims of Vinaipur and Bagot, but recent WhatsApp forwards have successfully spread misinformation and infused irrational hatred into their people.
Indeed, Shahrukh and his family find it hard to grasp what had happened and why.
“Mujhe abhi tak samajh nai aa raha ki hua kya us din, ki mere abbu mare kyun gaye” (Until now, I cannot understand what happened that day, why my father was killed,”) said Shahrukh. “He was never enemies with anyone. What happened here that led to his killing?”
You can read Nikita Jain and Meghna Prakash’s full story here.