Standing on the doorstep of a single-storey house with unplastered walls, she says she doesn’t understand much about these things. All her son, a Class XII student, owned by way of electronics was a phone that he “got from a friend a few days ago”. It was this, she is being told, that was her son’s gateway to terror.
On January 22, he was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad and charged with being the Islamic State’s No. 2 man in India. After his lawyer said the youth was only 16, a court in Mumbai sent him to a children’s remand home. The Maharashtra ATS insists he is 22.
Since a team of dozen policemen in plainclothes came and took him away, the family has locked up their house and moved to a relative’s home at an undisclosed location. The mother is here in Kushinagar to pick up a few things.
“He had no laptop or anything else. He hardly left the house except to go to school or for coaching. All he had was a mobile phone that he had got only a few days ago from a friend. I told him to return it. I am sure my son has been framed,” she says.
The NIA claims that the youth organised conspiracy meetings for the Junood al Khilafa-e-Hind, an alleged Islamic State affiliate, across the country.
Their home is in a developing locality adjacent to National Highway 28, where the limits of Kasya town area end. The mother moved here with the accused and her other children from their ancestral village a year and half ago because they wanted a good education for the son after matriculation. The father of the accused, a revenue official, is posted in Khadda tehsil, over 30 km away.
The youth is the couple’s third child, the eldest of their four sons. The younger children, in classes VII and III, have stopped going to school since the arrest.
The accused was enrolled at the Buddha Intermediate College in Kasya. “We wanted him to become a doctor,” says the mother.
An uncle of the accused, a lawyer who still lives in their ancestral village, says the boy was planning to take the pre-medical test.
Located 320 km from Lucknow, Kasya is a small, dusty town of about 20,000 people, barely bigger than a village, with a bazaar at the centre.
In the mixed Hindu-Muslim neighbourhood where each house seems to declare its religion from the colour of the flag atop it — green on Muslim houses, red on Hindu ones, interspersed with electricity poles with posters of Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM — few admit to having had any contact with the youth. Almost all do recall, however, that he moved around on a “(TVS) Apache motorbike”.
Rajesh Madheshiya, a member of the ward where the accused lived, says, “We came to know that the accused lived here only when he was arrested.”
The mother says the youth stayed home most of the time, with “only one or two friends visiting him once in a while”. “He is deeply religious, and offers namaz five times a day. He has been doing it ever since he was eight. His legs even had permanent black marks due to the amount of time he spent in prayer. He learnt to pray from his grandmother,” she says.
She says he had been going to school infrequently for the past few months. “He used to study at home and go for coaching classes.”
On the morning the police came, she says, he was getting ready for school. “It was around 9 am. He was brushing his teeth. They found nothing in the house except for the mobile phone.”
Buddha Intermediate College principal Ritesh Chaudhary has records to show the youth’s poor attendance in Class XII. But Chaudhary clarifies that he was not known to get into trouble. “He was very docile. There are a few students in the school who sometimes fight each other, but he was never part of any such group.”
Chaudhary also talks of the youth “on a white Apache motorcycle”.
It is his Class X school marksheet — showing his date of birth as May 12, 1999, making him 16 years — that the defence has provided as proof that he is a juvenile.
While the youth cleared his Class X with first division marks, he slumped the next year, clearing Class XI with just over 40 per cent marks.
The Class X marksheet was issued by S B Uchhatar Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Sandi Khurd village, which in turn went by the date of birth in the transfer certificate issued to the youth by the Junior High School in his native village.
The principal of Junior High School, Anil Mishra, says he conducted an inquiry after police approached him for the age of the accused, and found no record that the youth had attended school. “The transfer certificate is fake,” Mishra says over the phone.
At the ancestral village, which is surrounded by mustard and cane fields, the accused’s family, from the backward Dhunia community of Muslims, is among the better-off. They live in one of the few pucca houses around. While Dhunias are traditional cotton-carders, the family owns eight bighas of agricultural land, and the brothers of the youth’s father do other jobs — two are in government service while the third is a lawyer.
Ashraf, a fellow villager, says they are a well-respected family. “They have never had any dispute with anyone. Even when someone’s cattle damages their crops, they do not complain.”
Of the youth, the neighbours have only a vague recollection, from his brief visits. Doubting the family’s claim that he is a juvenile, some villagers claim he cast his vote in the gram panchayat elections last December.
Trying to understand how the terror trail landed at their doorstep, the mother wonders about a communal clash in Kasya last October, on Muharram, triggered by a row over the procession. But she says her son was not in town that day. “He had gone to his aunt’s place in the village. We were getting ready to see the procession, but once we heard of the riot, we stayed at home.”
In Kasya though, there’s a lot of talk. People speak of a blast planned at the Kushinagar collectorate; others claim the youth was directly in touch with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared Caliph of ISIS.
The mother worries about what her landlord may have heard. “Someone from the neighbourhood told the landlord we are making bombs in this house. My son is a polite boy. He never indulged in any dispute.”
The family also wonders if “prosperity” did them in. “A lot of people conspire against you when you do well,” says the mother.