Moved out from Moradabad jail where his mother is on death row
On December 14, Taj walked out of Moradabad jail, clutching a packet of laddoos in one hand and holding “papa” Usman Saifi with the other. It was a day after his seventh birthday and he had spent it with his mother Shabnam. He had cut a cake, eaten samosas and spent time “alone” with his mother, who is on death row with his father Saleem.
Shabnam and Saleem were convicted of killing seven members of her family, on April 14, 2008, at Bawankhedi village in Amroha. Shabnam gave birth to Taj in jail, in December that year.
Earlier this year, the Amroha Child Welfare Committee put out advertisements for foster parents for the boy since jail manual doesn’t allow women inmates to keep children above six with them. Usman, 30, a Bulandshahr-based journalist who was Shabnam’s junior in college, turned up, offering to look after him. On July 30 this year, Taj walked out of Moradabad jail with foster parents Usman and his wife Suhina.
“Shabnam always sends something for Taj. The last time we went, on his birthday, it was those laddoos. I don’t know where she managed to get that from. Duniya chahe kisi bhi nazariye se unhe dekhe, woh toh uski maa hain na (Whatever the world thinks of her, she is, after all, his mother),” says Saifi on the phone, on his way to Ajmer for a family holiday with Suhina and Taj.
But Taj, he says, is moving on. He doesn’t ask for his mother, is in nursery in a school in Bulandshahr, and is proud of his newest possession, a cycle. Taj pipes in, “What are my favourite things? Mmm… bataoon (should I tell)? Rasgulla aur meri cycle.”
“We played a cruel prank on him the other day,” Saifi says. “I said, we are sending you back to your mother. He started howling, saying, ‘Papa, don’t send me back’. He is not going back for sure.”
Saifi also wants to shield him from all reminders of his past. “But since you ask, here is what he came with when he came to us”:
A cloth bag
“It was a dirty jhola stuffed with Taj’s clothes and toys. Shabnam probably got them from jail authorities. Taj was a favourite among them. He was particularly close to a constable called Savita Yadav. She keeps calling him. Taj would mention her initially, not anymore. After all, he is a child, he will forget. I don’t encourage him to talk about jail either. I was worried he would go to school and talk about jail — jail mein yeh hota tha… warden yeh kehti thi. So I told him to talk of jail as ‘gaon (village)’.”
A friendship band
“It was a thick, black band, the kind gunde-mavali (ruffians) wear. I hated it. But he wouldn’t hear of removing it. I got him all kinds of bracelets and bands… One night, when he was sleeping, I took it off. He asked for it in the morning and for the next couple of days. And then, he forgot about it.”
“I haven’t seen more worn-out hawai chappals. He was wearing those when he walked out of jail that first time. It may have been his favourite or his only pair. Once we got home, I made sure he never wore it again.”
“He came to us in a white shirt and yellow pants. His mother had packed his bag with at least 20 sets of clothes. He has outgrown almost all those clothes.”
“He had quite a few toys in his bag. But he was particularly fond of one, an elephant on a scooter. This scooter has a thread that you pull to set it racing. When he came, he would line up all his toys on the bed and sleep with them. Not any more. But he still has that toy… Looks like this one will stay for a while.”