Khandawali, Haryana: “Garmi ho yaa sardi yaa barsaat… 2018 ho yaa 2021… Din ho yaa raat… Mere liye toh har din 22 June 2017 hai. Main uss din se aage hi nahi badhi hu.” Whether it’s summer or winter or monsoon…2018 or 2021…day or night. For me, every day is 22 June 2017. I have not moved on from that day.
As tears rolled down her face, Saira Begum, 53, recalled the date she will never forget, when her 15-year-old son Junaid, a clean-shaven, pleasant-faced teenager, was stabbed to death by men on a train, which was bringing him home from Eid shopping in Delhi’s Sadar Bazar, and flung off at Asaoti railway station in Haryana.
Injured in the attack, his elder brother, Shaqir, and another sibling Hashim, alleged the accused made anti-Muslim slurs against the visibly Muslim brothers. While framing charges on 11 October 2017, after the police filed a 400-page chargesheet, a trial court in Faridabad said the accused “abused the victims in the name of their religion”.
Of the six men, two—Naresh Kumar and Rameshwar Das—were charged with murder. By 2018, all six were out on bail.
Since February 2018, the trial has not proceeded any further due to stay orders: in December 2017, by the Punjab and Haryana High Court while hearing an appeal against the dismissal of the family’s plea for Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe by a single judge; and in March 2018 by the Supreme Court while hearing a special leave petition, an appeal against orders passed by the High Court.
Trial court records show that the case was listed for hearing 44 times between September 2017 and June 2021, adjourned on most dates because of the stay ordered by the Supreme Court and the pandemic.
Had it not been for the pandemic and lockdown, Saira said she would have sat on protest in Delhi.
“I want justice. I want people to raise their voice against what is happening in the country—be it my son’s murder or student activist Umar Khalid’s arrest,” said Saira. “I know we all can’t gather like we did earlier for my child, but I hope people from their homes register their protest on his death anniversary. I don’t want anyone to forget Junaid.”
In June 2021, a man who said he was Kumar appeared in a video at a mahapanchayat, a village gathering, held in support of those accused of another alleged hate crime, the murder of gym owner Asif Khan on 16 May 2021.
“In the case of the murder of Asif, I want to tell all my brothers, if they are guilty or innocent, we are with them, even if we have to sacrifice our lives,” the man who says he is Kumar declares in the video. “When a Muslim dies, all our leaders land up there and offer them money and give them a lawyer. Jai Hind. Jai Bharat.”
“I have watched that video on my phone, multiple times,” said 55-year-old Jalaluddin Khan, Junaid’s father, a driver, who suffered a heart attack in September 2017, three months after his son was lynched. He fell silent for a while before he spoke again. “Just imagine how I felt when I watched a man accused of killing my child say those things.”
Junaid’s father Jalaluddin Khan, 55, suffered a heart attack three months after his son was murdered.
As many as 88% or 95 of 107 Indians killed in crimes motivated by religious bias—which are not classified or recorded as such in national crime data—between 2009 and 2019 died after 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, according to an Article 14 database of such hate crime, built with English media reports and on-ground verification.
In Haryana, hate crimes rose from none over the five years to 2013 to 6 killed and 45 injured in the five years between 2014 and 2019, according to our database.
Junaid was the sixth of Jalaluddin and Saira’s eight children, and since his murder, none of the couple’s children have taken the train to Delhi’s Sadar Bazar. “If they have to go somewhere, they take the shared tempo or bus. It takes more time, costs more but we just can’t take that train. Sirf dehshat nahi, bahut dehshat mein rehte hai hum (It’s not just fear, it’s a lot of fear that we live with),” said Begum.
Jalaluddin recalled his last conversation with Junaid on the day he was murdered, before he left for Delhi with his brother Hashim and their two friends. He told his son not to go.
“I was scared… Maine usse bola tha ki mahaul accha nahi hai...Log Musalmano ko maar rahe hai, daadhi aur topi dekh kar (I told him the atmosphere is not good… People are killing Muslims just by spotting their beard and cap),” said Jalaluddin, repeating what he told this reporter four years ago. “I told him to wait a few days, I said I would drive him to Delhi but he was so excited.”
The couple’s eldest son, Ismail, is now a driver in Delhi. “I have told him to always be careful, not to get into arguments unnecessarily,” said Jalaluddin.
Around two months after Junaid’s murder, recalled Jalaluddin, the family was provided a police guard, stationed outside their home in Khandawali village in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh district. “This was done to ensure our safety, especially when we visit the Court for hearings,” said Jalaluddin. “He was deployed by the Court, and he is here daily.”
“This video of Naresh Kumar that has come out has scared me. They want this, they want Muslims to be scared,” said Jalaluddin. “Every few weeks, we read reports of Muslims being jailed or beaten up or killed over suspicion of killing cows. These people are not scared because they see how people like them have been garlanded and given party tickets. Despite this, I have full faith in the judiciary. We will get justice no matter how many years it takes.”
Months after the murder, the family demanded a CBI inquiry, a plea that a Punjab and Haryana High Court division bench dismissed.
In March 2018, 53-year-old Das, one of the accused and a health inspector in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, was granted bail, and the Punjab and Haryana High Court said that the initial dispute between the victims and the accused was “only regarding the seat sharing and abuses in the name of castes and nothing more”.
On the afternoon of 19 June, four years after his son’s death, Junaid’s father refuted the statement of the judges. “It was not over seat-sharing, it was over the religious identity of my sons,” said Jalaluddin. “They were adults who killed a child… Such people don’t even spare children.”
As her husband stepped out for a few minutes in the course of this interview, Saira, seated on a diwan in their home, whispered, “He’s scared of leaving Ballabhgarh. He has driven all over Delhi and Haryana, but after what happened with Junaid, fear set in his heart. He also fell sick, and got two stents in his heart a few months after we lost our son.”
The Fear Of June
For a few weeks after Junaid’s death, a stream of visitors—journalists, members of NGOs, politicians, relatives, and neighbours—walked in and out of their home in Khandawali village.
“Many promised financial help, some said they would help my sons get jobs,” said Saira. “Four years later, where are they?”
Situated next to the mosque, the two-storey house has a room on the ground floor where Saira and Jalaluddin meet visitors—except in June. We met the couple in the single room on the second floor.
“The moment we enter this month, fear grips me, and I don’t like leaving my bed, which is why you had to come up,” said Saira. “It’s messy, no fresh coat of paint in years.”
After Junaid’s death, Jalaluddin stopped working due to his heart condition. Junaid’s brother Shakir, who suffered five stab wounds, including one in the chest, was bedridden for months, and lost his job as a driver.
“His wound never healed, and till date, he can't even lift a bucket of water with that hand,” said his mother. “He can’t do physical labour, and is not educated enough to have a desk job. He has been unemployed since.”
The family did get some financial help at the time, which they said had been spent on the legal battle.
“Going to the court for hearing costs money,” said Junaid's father. The Waqf Board got Hashim a job at a mosque nearby but “salary is poor and irregular”. Saira added: “Hashim has not been paid in over six months. What is the point of such a job?”
Neighbours, all Muslim, gathered in numbers when Junaid was laid to rest in 2017, but the relationship with many is now strained, said the family.
“So many people from Delhi offered to help us monetarily in 2017 and got it printed in newspapers, whether or not the help actually reached us,” said Saira. “People here formed an opinion that we were rich or willing to do a samjhauta (understanding). If we were rich, would we not improve our standard of living?” said Saira.
Last month, remembered Saira, there was a squall late at night, and the family rushed out as they saw cracks developing on the wall. Last year, the family met with an accident, and their car—a Maruti Eeco—was damaged, though the family escaped unhurt. The car has not been used for months.
“If we had money, would we live in a house with cracks?” said Saira. “If we had money, would we not get the car repaired so it can be used to ferry people and earn money?”
The pandemic and the lockdown in 2020 made matters worse for the family. The job search by brothers Shakir, Adil, and Qasim ground to a halt, and Faisal, a 16-year-old student, discontinued his studies after class X at a Delhi school in a bid to save money.
“Gareeb aadmi ke liye ek hafta bina kamaai ke mushkil se nikalta hai, yaha toh Covid-19 aur lockdown ki vajah se ek saal se zyaada ho gaya (For a poor person, even a week without wages is hard, it’s now been over a year like this due to Covid-19 and the lockdown),” said Jalaluddin.
Junaid would have turned 20 this year, said Saira.
Over the phone from Nuh, Haryana, Junaid’s elder sister Rabiya recalled the days her brother spent at her house playing with his nephews and nieces. “It makes me sad that he never got to meet my youngest,” said Rabiya. “I still wonder how anyone could have the heart to kill a 15-year-old boy?”
Born “sometime in the monsoon,” as per his mother, Junaid was studying to become an imam, at a madrasa in Ferozepur Namak, a village in Mewat. He was visiting home to celebrate Eid with his family that June. A night before he was murdered, a daawat (feast) had been organised by the mosque in the village to celebrate Junaid leading the prayer as a hafiz during the month of Ramzan.
Back home in Khandawali, Junaid’s books and his favourite kurta and its broken buttons have been packed up in a tin trunk and kept aside.
“We talk about him every day,” said Hashim, as he removed the dust from the plaque at Junaid’s grave, which is surrounded by a bed of yellow daisies. “How can we forget our brother for a single day?”
“At least we got to bury our son, we have a grave to go to when we miss him… I shudder to think what Najeeb’s parents must go through. He has been missing since 2016. They don’t even know if he’s alive,” said Jalaluddin, while referring to Najeeb Ahmed, the Jawaharlal Nehru University student who has been missing since 2016.
A few houses away lives Junaid’s friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We all grew up together, he was the most innocent of us all,” said the friend. “After he died, I was hesitant about going out at first. We have moved on now. I understand why his family hasn’t.”
The 19-year-old friend’s mother said that till date she remembers the photos of a lifeless Junaid, lying on the platform of the railway station.
“All these children grew up in front of my eyes,” she said. “If he had been alive, he would have been as old as my son. It doesn’t matter whether the child is a Muslim or a non-Muslim, it pains to know that a child was killed.”
(Somya Lakhani is a Delhi-based journalist.)