SALEEM SHAIKH (38), the Ola driver who was beaten to death by three youths in a case of alleged road rage, had just begun making plans to celebrate the first birthday of his 10-month old son Zabir. “He had told me he would order food and cakes from a particular joint. He had started saving money for it,” said Ejaz Shaikh, Saleem’s nephew and a close friend with whom the 38-year-old discussed his life plans.
Ejaz added: “As their first-born son is a child with special needs, Saleem and his wife were often anxious about his future. It was only after the birth of their second son that things began to ease out. Just when things had started to work out, the family had to go through this.” On Monday evening, Saleem was on Ahilyabai Holkar Marg in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi. He was returning home after dropping a passenger to Pune. Three youths on a bike tried to overtake him. As the two-wheeler was crossing the Ola cab, the front bumper of the four-wheeler brushed against the bike. One of the youths got off the bike and slapped Saleem. He was then beaten to death on the road allegedly by the trio.
The police registered a murder case and booked the three, aged between 19 and 21 years. Two of them were arrested on Tuesday, the third on Wednesday. One of the accused, Imran Ali (19), who works on contract with a BMC clean-up marshal, had taken his senior’s bike without informing him for a joyride. He reportedly called his friend Imran Shaikh (21), employed as a cloth salesman, and Wajid Ali (21), a zari worker for the ride. “The trio did not know Saleem and it was purely a case of road rage,” senior inspector Deepak Pagare of the Shivaji Nagar police station said.
Saleem, who earlier worked in a company in Vashi, had quit owing to a health issue. He had worked for a while at his father-in-law’s embroidery unit, before purchasing a vehicle on a five-year loan to use for the Ola app cab service. “‘Kab tak doosron ki gulami karenge (till when will be work for others)?’ he would tell me. He wanted to do something of his own. Around one-and-a-half years ago, he started driving the taxi,” Ejaz said.
Saleem was hoping to improve his monthly earning also to ensure that Atta Mohammad, his elder son, got the best education. He was enrolled in a school for children with special needs in Parel. “In order to give more time to his son, he later got a driver for the vehicle. That, however, did not work out and he started driving again,” Ejaz said. Saleem’s wife, who had given up her teaching job after her marriage, had also resumed working. She would worry a lot about Atta and hence they decided going back to work would help her. “Although she did not earn a lot, it ensured that she did something she enjoyed,” a neighbour said. “The family was overjoyed when they had another child 10 months back. Everything seemed to be falling into place,” the neighbour added.
Local people remember Saleem as the man who “laughed the loudest, even after everyone had stopped laughing”. “He did not have vices. He loved mobile phones and cars. He was a prankster and a good natured man,” said Akhil Shaikh, a local. Akhil, however, linked the road rage case to the traffic problems in the Govandi area.
“Ever since the flyover construction has begun — a 2.1-km flyover being constructed by the BMC — there are major traffic snarls here. You come to the signal in the evening and you will see at least 50 cases where a fatal accident was escaped by inches. There are no traffic policemen. The auto drivers get off and start managing the traffic. It is only now that a person has died that authorities will hopefully realise that there is a problem that needs to be solved,” Akhil said.