Ravindra Sah shows the neat handwriting on the Hindi notebook of his 16-year-old son, Mukesh Kumar, before breaking down and covering his face with his palms. “He was such a bright student… I have lost my son and I want justice,” he says at his home in Banhora village deep inside Bihar’s West Champaran district.
About 4 km away, a tense silence shrouds the locked home of Noorjehan Khatun, the 17-year-old daughter of Tajmohammed Mian in Balua Mahali Tola. “The family learnt about her affair with a Hindu boy only recently… it’s such a bloody end to a teenage love story,” says a neighbour.
Between the tears and the tension, lies the story of what police say is Bihar’s first recorded case of “honour killing”.
On Monday night, police say, members of Noorjehan’s family — her father died seven years ago — allegedly lured Mukesh to their village, beat him and “forced him to drink pesticide in a bid to make the death resemble a suicide”. Noorjehan was “later strangled and poisoned”. “The post-mortem reports are awaited. The girl’s brother and two uncles were arrested on Wednesday,” said an officer at Nautan police station with jurisdiction over Balua Mahali Tola.
Noorjehan’s body was buried on barren land about 3 km from her village, and Mukesh’s body was recovered nearby from a sugarcane field along the Chandravat river. “Elders from both the communities could have easily resolved this matter but the girl’s family laid a trap to kill two innocent children,” says Sah, who owns a small fertiliser shop in the village.
“My son was in Class 9 at a private school in Nautan. Over the last five-six months, he was not concentrating much on his studies. Recently, we learnt from neighbours that he was in love with a Muslim girl who was studying in Class 10 at a government school in Nautan. But we did not receive any complaint from the girl’s family, and assumed that everything was alright. My son never shared his affection for the girl with his younger brother or mother,” says Sah. “I did not think it proper to ask my son about this even though I had my doubts. Now, I regret that,” he says.
Recalling the night of the murders, Sah says, “We had gone to bed at around 10 pm. He was sleeping separately in another room. At 2.25 am, my brother received a call from an unknown person saying that my son was lying on a field at Balua Mahali. My brother and I rushed over. We saw at least seven people standing near my son’s body and could not muster the courage to confront them. I should have immediately approached police but my mind went blank in panic. We went home, returned the next day to take his body and approached police. The body had injury marks on the face, the right hand was broken.”
According to police, Sah lodged a case of murder and criminal conspiracy at Nautan police station against Noorjehan’s sister Shabnam Khatoon, brother Alauddin and uncles Gulsanovar Mian and Aamir Mian. Banhora and Balua Mahali Tola fall under Bardaha, a Hindu-dominated panchayat with around 20 Muslim households. “So far, the killings have not led to a law-and-order problem because the boy’s family is facing the situation with maturity,” says Kundan Kumar Singh, in-charge, Nautan police station.
“Our investigation shows that boy’s killing was planned. A trap was laid by tricking the girl into believing that no harm would come to the boy. Later, when the girl protested over the beating and killing of the boy, she was eliminated,” says Singh.
In Balua Mahali Tola, a neighbour says Noorjehan’s brother Alauddin was a daily-wage worker. “They could not afford to educate her in a private school. She would meet Sah’s son on her way to the government school or while returning. A month ago, the two were seen talking and the information was passed on to the girl’s family,” says the neighbour, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Banhora, a distraught Sah says, “His affectionate call of ‘Pitaji’ still rings in my ears… now, I will preserve my son’s books in his memory.”