Lying on a stringed cot, fingers clasped behind his head, Nafees Ahmed looks up straight at the winter sun streaming in through the skylight of the courtyard. Ever since his son Najeeb went missing from his hostel room in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on October 15, Nafees has spent most of his days — and nights — on this cot near the door of his home in Vaidon Tola, a neighbourhood in the Uttar Pradesh town of Badaun. “I don’t sleep inside these days. Mein sochta hoon kya pata woh yahin aa jaye aur mujhe bell sunayi na de (What if he comes here and I don’t hear the doorbell)?” he says.
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“Kya pata woh yahin aa jaye” is also what keeps Nafees’s wife Fatima awake at night, about 275 km away, at her sister-in-law’s home in Delhi’s Zakir Nagar. “Neend hi nahin aati, aur jab aati hai to ek dum khul jaati hai. Mera bachcha kahan hoga, kya kar raha hoga (I can’t sleep at night. And when I do, I wake up with a start, thinking where would my child be, what would he be doing)?”
On October 15, hours after he had got into a late-night scuffle with ABVP members campaigning for the hostel elections, Najeeb Ahmed, 27, a first-year MSc student of Biotechnology, had gone missing from his Room No. 106 in JNU’s Mahi-Mandvi hostel. His phone, wallet and laptop were found on his bed, one of his chappals in the room and the other on the landing of the staircase.
Rumours have been swirling since — that Najeeb got agitated on seeing the kalava (sacred thread worn around the wrist) of Vikrant Singh, the ABVP member campaigning for the post of mess secretary, who visited Najeeb in his room; that he may have been on anti-depressants and, disturbed about the events of that night, may have just walked out of his room.
On Saturday, the Delhi Police transferred to the case to the Crime Branch. Earlier, officials said a police team had gone to Nepal after reports that Najeeb may have gone there.
Without their son around to say what happened that night, Ahmed and Fatima have been left defending the Najeeb they know. That Najeeb, they say, couldn’t have walked out, couldn’t have started the fight, couldn’t have left without telling his mother. The “depression theory”, they say, has been conveniently brought up by the police to wash their hands of the case. The family has lodged a case of kidnapping at the Vasant Kunj (North) police station in Delhi.
“Fatima is a strong woman. She has been fighting there in Delhi. I can only stay here and wait for Najeeb,” mumbles Nafees. A carpenter, he has been largely immobile since the past few years after falling off the water tank on their terrace. He is also a heart patient.
Sitting on the sofa at Ahmed’s sister’s home in Zakir Nagar, waiting for a television crew to link up to the studios, Fatima looks weary. The harsh camera lights on her, she says, “Thak gayi interview dete dete. Par mere bachche ke liye main kahin bhi baith sakti hoon, kuch bhi kar sakti hoon (I am tired of these interviews. But I can do anything for my child, go anywhere). I had never done all this before. In all my visits to Delhi, I would only come here to my sister-in-law’s house and go back. I haven’t even seen the Jama Masjid or Lal Quila. But I won’t go back till I get my child.”
She adds, “My child can’t go anywhere without telling me. Ammi, paani. ammi, abhi aaya. ammi yeh, ammi woh. You think someone like that can just go away without telling me? I have been telling everyone this — the night he was assaulted, around 2 am, he called me from Safdarjung Hospital and asked me to come. So he remembers to carry his cellphone even after being hit so badly but forgets to take it when he walks out of the room? I refuse to believe that.”
Najeeb’s cousin Sadaf agrees, “His mother is his world. They don’t make children like Najeeb anymore.”
While there are different versions of the scuffle at Mahi-Mandvi hostel, almost everyone agrees that Najeeb spoke little, stood by his friends, liked his poetry and his music, and was a regular on Facebook.
Though his classes began in August, Najeeb had got the hostel room barely days before he went missing. He had come home to Badaun for the Dussehra and Muharram holidays and left for Delhi on October 13, a day before the attack, with pedas for his classmates. His last post on Facebook is on October 12, when he replies “Okk” to a friend’s request: “Najeeb pede le aiyo badaun se”.
On October 15, hours after that 2 am call from Najeeb, Fatima had left for Delhi. She left her ailing husband in the care of her youngest daughter and son Haseeb and took a bus to Delhi with Mujeeb, the second of her four children and a final-year student of civil engineering at a Bareilly college.
All along, she says, she kept thinking Najeeb should have listened to her when it really mattered. “After his BSc from a Bareilly college, he applied for admission to AMU (Aligarh Muslim University), Jamia Millia Islamia and JNU. He got in everywhere. He even took admission at Jamia but when the JNU results came out some days later, he said he wanted to go there. I kept telling him, don’t go. Wahan rajniti hoti hai, mahaul kharab hai (a lot of politics happens there; the atmosphere isn’t good). But he said, ‘What do I have to do with politics?’,” she says.
He had scored an all-India rank of 48 and stood second in the OBC category in CEEB (the Combined Biotechnology Entrance Exam).
Back in Badaun, Najeeb’s father Nafees also talks about how close he was to Fatima. “He would speak to his mother on the phone everyday. Ab 25-27 din ho gaye (Now, it’s been 25-27 days),” he says softly.
Elder brother Anees Ahmed says that Najeeb going missing had completely shattered Nafees. Ever since that fall from the water tank, when Nafees fractured his arms and hipbone, he had been a “broken man”, Anees says. “Nafees is like a robot. All rods and steel. Now, with Najeeb missing, he has broken down further. Har tarah se toote-phoote hain.”
In the courtyard, relatives and a few neighbours are gathered on chairs talking about the case. “Netaon ke kutte and bhains ko police wale dhoondh lete hain (police trace pet dogs and buffaloes of ministers). Here, a grown up man goes missing from a university and they can’t find him?” says one.