It was a windy day and he wanted to fly a kite. It was also the end of the month, and he knew he couldn’t ask his mother for the last scraps of his father’s earnings of Rs 3,000.
Then the nine-year-old’s eyes fell upon a flex poster fluttering in the wind, just the right size and material for a kite, he thought.
Shaheel Mollah never got the chance to find out. The flex poster, put up in the Canning East constituency that covers Shaheel’s village Hariharpur, featured Trinamool Congress sitting MLA Saukat Mollah. Minutes after he had pulled the poster down, the boy was abducted, bound, gagged and thrashed, allegedly by TMC workers. After he fainted, he was dumped near a ditch, on an empty piece of land. Just before he lost consciousness, Shaheel says, the men told him, “Your father is a CPM agent.”
It was around 10 am on April 26, and Shaheel was out playing with his friends. When he saw the poster, it looked battered and was already a little torn, he says. “I thought that it would make a great kite. All my friends play with kites, but we don’t always have the money for it.”
As soon as he started pulling at the poster, men allegedly belonging to the TMC rushed towards his friends and him shouting. The others fled, but the Class V boy kept tugging at the poster, determined to fly a kite that evening.
Six men grabbed Shaheel and took him away, allegedly to the residence of TMC strongman Ayejul Sardar, where he was beaten up. Sardar has been arrested, say police.
“I kept telling them that all I wanted to do was fly a kite. But they tied my arms and legs and gagged me. They punched me and kicked me. The last thing I remember them telling me was that I should tell my father that they would kill him and me.”
MLA Soukat Mollah claims the allegations against TMC workers are baseless. “This has been engineered by the Left. What happened was that the boy got lost, and some of our workers brought him back to his parents.”
Circle Inspector Sisir Kumar Mitra confirmed receiving a complaint from Shaheel’s family. “They say the boy was attacked by six persons. We are looking into the matter. We have also provided the family security.”
The family, including Shaheel’s parents, sister and ailing grandfather, who live in a single-room house with a thatched roof, is in shock. In the centre of the room lies a bed, with motley furniture cluttered around it. The boy rests on the bed while his mother Shahana Bibi sobs silently and strokes his head. His seven-year-old sister Mahima Khatoon clings to their mother.
Looking on, father Moiuddin Mollah, 33, a mason, says his son is a bright student who always comes first in his class. Flying kites was one of his few indulgences, and he couldn’t afford it, he says.
“I can barely afford to put my children through school. Kites and toys are luxuries when you can’t be sure of two meals a day. But I never realised that something like this could happen to a little boy because he wanted to play,” he says.
He has been receiving threats from TMC workers since the incident, Moiuddin says. “Today afternoon the accused came with TMC workers in a TMC vehicle and promised to come later and kill me and my family. I’ve approached the police, but I’m not sure they will do anything.”
Shahana was home when Shaheel’s friends came rushing to inform that six men had taken him away. She spent hours searching for him, going house to house, before finding him in a ditch. “His head was swollen, his body black and blue all over. The doctors thought he might have a serious head injury,” she says.
Claiming that Shaheel was still not out of danger, Shahana says, “How can they be so brutal?”
Mahima says “bhai is always talking about kites and flying”. “He wants to be a pilot and he is fascinated by everything that flies — kites, birds and planes.”
Shaheel’s grandfather Imarat Mollah breaks down talking about the incident, as he has been doing since the nine-year-old was discovered in a ditch. “Even Moiuddin was like this. He was constantly thinking of new things, and I encouraged my grandson to do the same. Now I think this is my fault,” says the 84-year-old.
Moin Mollah, who is in Class IV, was among the children playing with Shaheel that day. “Shaheel is very smart and is always coming up with new games. He told us we could make a big kite and fly it together. We were all very excited. But when the TMC workers came, we ran,” Moin says.
Seconds later, the eight-year-old clarifies, “I don’t know if they were TMC workers. That’s what I thought. But I am a child. What do I know?”