Ilyas Ansari, then 40, must have been happy on November 26, 2008 as he boarded younger brother Isareel’s taxi from Mumbra in the far suburbs of the financial capital to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus along with his elder brother, their children and other relatives. Ilyas, a cook in a restaurant, was heading home to his native village Dhab in Bihar’s Nawada district (Sirdala block) after finalising his elder daughter Salma Khatoon’s marriage. Hours later, Ilyas and five other members of the family were dead, including two children, all from bullet injuries at the train station.
Nine years later, Ilyas’s son Mohammed Qayyum Ansari, 18, says the family is still struggling to get back on its feet, the government jobs for victims’ kin having been snapped up by uncles.
Qayyum, then just nine years old, and his elder brother Ayub were minors at the time. “Our uncles told us that as we were young, they would take the jobs and would care for us,” says Qayyum, adding that his mother Shakila Khatoon and the brothers have had to fend for themselves since the attacks. The ex gratia sum of Rs 10 lakh helped Shakila keep going while it dawned upon her gradually that her children had lost an opportunity to get government jobs. While Qayyum is now in Class XI, Ayub is completing his graduation. Youngest brother Faizan has a hearing and speech impairment.
“Hum ghar mein kaam kiye, khet mein kaam kiye, jahaan jo bulata tha, jaisa bhi kaam samajh mein aaye karte the….hum kaise bachcha log ko paale hum hi jaante hain (I worked in homes, I worked in fields, wherever I could find a job, I worked to the best of my abilities…. only I know what challenges I faced bringing up my children),” says the mother, now in her mid-forties.
Much of the compensation was spent on her daughters’ weddings — while Salma’s wedding had to be called off because of the terror attack, Tarannum got married a couple of years and then Salma the following year.
Tarannum says life is slowly stabilising. Her husband, Mohammad Sarfaraz, lives in Kolkata with his family. “I worked in a barber’s shop, but have now managed to buy my own shop in Hooghly district,” says Sarfaraz. Tarannum has left elder son Mujahid, 4, with her parents-in-law in Kolkata to visit her parents’ home with younger son Raja, 2. “They take care of us,” she says proudly of Sarfaraz’s family.
For Qayyum and Ayub, there’s still a question mark over their future. “My father would always stress on the importance of education. He would say that it was up to us to eke out a better life. I want to finish my studies and will try to get some skill training so that I can find a job. Plus, I also have the responsibility of Faizan,” says Qayyum. Some time after the attacks, a group of good Samaritans offered to pay for Qayyum’s education and he was admitted to a school in Hisua, nearly 10 km from Dhab village. A few months later, however, the payments dried up and he had to return to the government-run school in the village.
A few years ago, the family says, the Taj Mahal Hotel had invited the family for training in the hospitality sector. Shakila says once again some others in the family grabbed the chance. But the feisty mother has managed to make the best of her situation, even repairing her house last year to make one section pucca. “It had all begun collapsing. So my mother decided to get it repaired. You can imagine how the family has survived for nearly 10 years without any regular source of income, and yet have something left to get a pucca structure made,” says Qayyum.
Shakila feels strongly about her sons’ claim for jobs. “Please see you can talk about it … something must be done for them,” she says.