It was his first trip to the cattle fair alone, and an excited 12-year-old Inayatullah Khan left wearing new slippers and a freshly stitched shirt and shorts. “He told me that once he returned with money, he would help get his two sisters married,” says father Mohammad Azad Khan.
Fourteen hours later, barely 8 km from home, Inayatullah was found hanging from a tree along with Mohammad Majloom Ansari in Jhabar village of Jharkhand’s Latehar district, still dressed in his new clothes. A gang of eight, including a known “gau-rakshak (cow protection activist)”, had attacked them, allegedly to stop them and others from trading in cattle.
They had never faced any such trouble before, says a bewildered Azad, in his 40s. That was one reason why he let Inayatullah accompany Ansari to the cattle fair in Tutilawa, Hazaribagh, nearly 100 km away. The 12-year-old was taking two oxen bought by Azad for around Rs 40,000 each for sale. Azad hoped to make a profit of at least Rs 10,000 on the sale. Ansari, Azad’s partner, had six oxen with him.
“Inayatullah had accompanied me once or twice before, but never gone to a fair on his own. I would have joined him in Tutilawa if needed,” says Azad, sitting at Ansari’s house in Nawada village.
Azad broke his ankle in an accident a year ago and can’t walk long distances now. That was another reason he stayed out of the Hazaribagh trip.
Ansari came to their home in Arahara on March 17 to take Inayatullah with him. They planned to walk to Dumartand and then to Hazaribagh, to reach the Tutilawa market on Holi day. The fair was to be held the day after, on March 25.
Khairunnisa, Inayatullah’s maternal grandmother, was among those who saw him off on March 17 afternoon. Sitting at the Arahara home with its baked mud tiles, she remembers that Inayatullah ate only a little rice before leaving. “He left some for his
Grandfather Jaliluddin Khan says Inayatullah had suddenly grown up after Azad’s accident. “After that, I seldom found him playing or idling away time.
He had promised Azad that he would bring good money from Tutilawa. Usko jimmedari aa gaya thaa (He had started feeling responsible).”
Inayatullah’s shy sisters Rukhsana (15) and Harzana (14) also know their little brother talked about getting them married. “He never said this to us. But he would often assure our grandfather.”
Crying, Inayatullah’s paternal grandmother Naseeran Bibi says, “Etna go ladka ke maar ke kaa mila? Aage padhta, kamata, parivar ko badhata. Ab kya bacha (What did they get by killing a little kid? He could have gone on to study, earned, helped the family grow. What is left now?).”
At the school where the 12-year-old studied, 200 m from his house, few remember him, either among the students or teachers. “I don’t find it surprising. They may be regular till Class V or so, but as the children grow up, there is pressure on them to begin earning. I have never seen Imtiyaz (the name by which Inayatullah was enrolled in the school) and I am sure his story was no different,” says the head of the management committee of the school, Ram Kishore Vishwakarma, who is relaxing in a vest and a pair of trousers at the school.
While attendance records show Inayatullah as having been regular till March, headmistress Sarita Tigga believes these may have been fudged. She claims a para-teacher who ran the school at the time may have fudged records “to show good attendance and to get requisite funds”.
Tigga adds, “Imtiyaz had not even come to get his uniform (given by the government) for the new season in January.”
Mukhtar Ansari, a former cattle trader, says it was natural for Inayatullah to have joined his father’s trade. “Do you think a father would allow his 12-year-old son in a trade requiring travel on foot for days? It is only to put food on the table. There are no jobs in the area. Agriculture does not earn you much. Most of the youngsters begin taking up odd jobs by the time they are in their teens.”
Latehar is a Naxal-dominated district, and from officials to politicians, few dare enter the area. In February, Naxals blew up the Nawadih panchayat bhawan and also torched a mobile phone tower. A few days later, security forces recovered two 30-kg can bombs under a half-constructed bridge. While there are several other mobile phone towers, there is virtually no network connectivity.
Arhara itself is located at the end of a 15-km-long arduous road drive, that takes an hour.
While opposition parties have accused right-wing Hindu groups of killing Inayatullah and Ansari, and accused the state government of not acting against them, few have bothered to make the trek to Azad’s house. Police maintain the murders were only a case of cattle robbery gone wrong.
Chief Minister Raghubar Das announced Rs 1 lakh each as compensation and asked the families to come to Ranchi to meet him. But the families rejected the same. When the Congress gave the two families Rs 1 lakh each a few days later, Azad was at Ansari’s house.
Azad and wife Namjma Khatoon now spend most of their days here, wary of missing out on help should they remain in Arahara. Looking at an empty tent and the plastic chairs stacked in a corner organised for visitors, who have now reduced to a trickle, Azad says, “If I am at my house, nobody would come. You have seen the kind of road that is there.”
At Arahara, the traces of Inayatullah are similarly fading. As part of a ritual, the family has donated his clothes, schoolbooks, bag and other belongings. But, Namjma says, she couldn’t give away everything. So, apart from a passport-size photograph, she kept a shirt and trouser — to remind her of the boy who was fond of new clothes.