She was 15; he 20. She sold incense sticks for a living, enjoyed dancing and often performed at school competitions. He loved music, wanted to participate in a singing reality show and would flaunt his English among the local boys. A year ago, they fell in love.
On September 23, Rizwan Khan allegedly murdered Masira Parveen, hacking her body and dumping it in a drain, suspecting that she was cheating on him — their love story ending a few feet away from where it started, in southeast Delhi’s Nizamuddin basti.
Rizwan’s brother Sameer, accused of disposing of Masira’s body, is under arrest too.
In the sprawling slum’s dingy lanes, where dreams die struggling for light, their story is slowly being erased. Beginning with hers.
“He first saw my daughter when my second husband was being taken away by police in a murder case a year-and-a-half ago. He then started meeting her after school,” says Afsana, 40, Masira’s mother, sitting in her one-room rented accommodation crammed with incense stick packets.
“Later, he began to come home. I knew my daughter liked him. Meri beti bohot bholi thi (my daughter was naïve)… I would scold her, but it didn’t stop her,” she says, as her younger daughter, 10, shows pictures of her “baaji (elder sister)” on her mother’s phone. “She was beautiful, see…,” says the girl, pointing to a picture of Masira with kohled eyes, streaked hair and golden bangles.
At the local school Masira attended — an informal school run by NGO Hope — programme officer Heera Begum says she was “very volatile” when she first came. “She was 13 then. Her father had deserted them. He beat up his wife and children. The family faced financial crunch. Over time, she showed massive improvement,” says Heera Begum.
Masira’s classmates are reluctant to talk about her. “We never spoke,” claims one. “She had not been coming to school for the past three months,” says another.
Afsana says as she had been keeping ill, Masira stayed home to help and sell incense sticks at the Nizamuddin dargah.
It was during these months, says Afsana, that gossip about her daughter and Rizwan spread. “I told him to marry Masira, and that is when their fights began. Rizwan would say he wanted two years, that he wanted to ‘become something’. But he could have married her and done that,” she says, holding back tears, adding, “We have been struggling with money. If she married, it would have helped.” One reason for those fights was a neighbour, from whom Afsana had rented the house. According to both police and Afsana, Rizwan murdered Masira because he suspected she had an affair with the man, who is married and a father of two.
Afsana accepts she did nothing to quash the rumours. “The neighbour was very helpful to us. He would carry our incense stick packets to the dargah. When I was unwell, he would take me to the doctor… When Rizwan developed suspicions about him and Masira, I didn’t clarify. I thought maybe that would propel him to marry my daughter.”
When, after one of their fights, Masira switched off her phone, Rizwan took to writing letters. “Maine tumhari mohabbat mein socha aage bhadhunga, tinka tinka jod ke ghar khareedunga… (I thought your love will help me grow, we would build a home),” he wrote in one such letter early this year.
Afzana has a stack of several such letters and cards, most of which begin with ‘Sorry’ and end with ‘Love you Masira’.
“Rizwan was different from my other kids, he wanted to achieve something, move out of the basti,” says Saira Bano, 46, of the youngest of her four children. “My eldest has a clothes cart in Bengaluru, my daughter is married, Sameer is a drug addict. I had high hopes of Rizwan,” adds Bano, who works as a house help.
Rizwan tried many things, people in the basti say. “He played several instruments… Two years ago we heard about him auditioning for Indian Idol, there was a lot of talk about it,” says his classmate Mohammad Salim, 20, who runs a tea shop in the area.
But Rizwan didn’t make the cut. If he was upset, says Salim, he didn’t show it.
Soon after, with his “fairly good” command over English, he became a local guide, taking foreign tourists around Nizamuddin. “Many became his friends. He also took English tuitions for children. He worked with an NGO too. He hardly interacted with people here, he always wanted to meet people from outside,” says Sameer’s wife Nazma, 25. She has two children, ages 3 and 4.
Walking up to his room — behind her own one-room accommodation, that she shares with Nazma and her children — Bano says, “Rizwan had built his own world here.” The room has been sealed by police. Through the gaps in the wooden wall, one can see caps, books and musical instruments such as a casio, along with a bed and a table decorated with streamers. “He would shave his head and wear caps,” says his mother.
About his relationship with Masira, Salim says, “He never spoke of it. Also, there were a lot of rumours about Masira and her family… unka character theek nahin tha.”
Bano admits Masira’s mother came to their house to urge Rizwan to marry her daughter, but adds “nothing came of it”. “He took his own decisions,” she claims.
On September 25, Bano says, Rizwan told the family about the alleged murder. “I told him to surrender to police.” Rizwan allegedly kept Masira’s body in his room for two days, before discarding it along with Sameer.
Investigating Officer C L Meena says Rizwan has confessed. “Let’s see if he says the same thing in court,” he says. Rizwan does not have a lawyer yet.
Afsana regrets not having clarified about the neighbour to Rizwan earlier. “He killed my daughter over a suspicion. Kya ye unki chaahat thi (Was this his love)?” Recalling the last time she saw Masira, Afsana adds, “I had put up a stall at the Nizamuddin mela. She came to give me food. She was wearing a beautiful salwar-kameez….”
Rizwan, who always wanted out of the basti, is unlikely to return to it soon. Nazma, who met him at Tihar Jail recently, says, “He was calm. He said he had already started teaching people English in prison.”