Around 5 pm September 16, as she was leaving school, Rubina bumped into one of her students. Hours later, came the news that the boy had killed the school’s principal, who was also his private tutor.
Now lodged at an observation home in Mumbai, the 12-year-old is believed to be the youngest person in Mumbai charged with murder. A shocked Rubina says the boy was among her best students. “He held the top rank in my class. There was no indication that anything was amiss.”
Another teacher, who taught him in Class 6, describes the boy as a good student who was also “mazakiya (mischievous)”. “Whenever I would reprimand him, he would crack a joke and I would start laughing.”
Police remain as clueless about what led to the murder. His family, including parents and four siblings, went missing soon after the murder. Traced by police to Bihar, they have moved to an unknown location.
Officers claim under questioning the boy keeps changing the reason for allegedly killing his teacher. He has reportedly told them the principal had refused to lend the Rs 2,000 his mother asked him to borrow, that he wanted money for a phone, to claiming someone had paid him to kill her. Soon after the arrest, the parents denied to The Sunday Express that they had asked him to get money. Police say the parents told them the same. Says Senior Inspector, Shivaji Nagar Police Station, S Paithankar, “We are sure he is involved. We are trying to understand the motive.”
The school, the boy’s home and the teacher’s lie within a 200-metre radius in a slum cluster in Shivaji Nagar area of eastern Mumbai. Run by a private trust, the school has around 300 students up to Class 8. The boy got enrolled seven years ago, and studied there with all his siblings. The teacher who was killed had been its principal since 2010 and lived alone.
The boy’s family, originally from Bihar, shared a one-room kitchen space. While the father is a tailor, the mother doesn’t work.
Apart from her school duties, the principal took tuitions, teaching roughly 20 students. That day, the boy had arrived at her house at 5.30 pm for classes. He says he returned home around 8 pm, only to go back almost immediately. This wasn’t unusual, as he often ran small errands for the teacher. Police say when he went back, he was carrying a knife, and at a moment when the teacher’s back was turned, he stabbed her. He reportedly kept sitting in the house as a crowd gathered.
In the absence of details, what police have is a rough sketch of the boy, with one fact repeated constantly — by teachers, neighbours, anyone who knew him: that he studied hard, and that he was “different” from youngsters his age in the area caught in drugs and crime.
Adjoining the Deonar dumping ground, the slum cluster where the murder happened has over six lakh people packed into a 32.5 sq km area — most of them migrants. As per a survey by NGO Apnalaya, nearly 50 per cent of the population is below 20 years.
Neighbours say as the family kept to themselves, they didn’t know much about them. “They paid the rent on time, never created any problems,” says their landlord, Karmrunnisa Shaikh. Alamzeb Khan, who lives opposite the boy’s residence, adds, “We all knew the boy was good at studies and he would never be seen loitering around.”
The teachers say the mother was very involved in her children’s studies.
Soon after the killing, most people blamed Shivaji Nagar’s “kharab mahaul (bad environment)” for the crime. Teachers at a local school, Burlington College, talk of beginning their day checking schoolbags of children, for tobacco products like gutkha or drugs. Fazl-ur-Rehman Khan, Principal of Nurul Islam Urdu High School and Junior College located in Shivaji Nagar, says, “Children here have no ground to play in. Even schools don’t have a compound. For most part of the day, the children are on the roads. Parents are out working, they can’t keep an eye.”
That is perhaps one of the reasons the 12-year-old was at the tuitions that day. Sabah Khan, a professor at TISS, is involved with the project ‘Improving M-East Ward’. The TISS website lists the ward, covering Shivaji Nagar, as one of the poorest areas of Mumbai. Says Khan, “Parents here try to send their children to classes, tuitions… in the hope of some kind of supervision.”
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