In December 2008, eight months after Shabnam and her lover Saleem were arrested for allegedly killing seven members of her family in a village in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, she gave birth to a baby boy in jail.
On July 30 this year, her son walked out of jail, the ‘home’ he had shared with his mother for the last seven years, with his foster parents — Usman Saifi, Shabnam’s friend from college, and his wife Suhina.
Saifi, 30, a Bulandshahr-based journalist, said, “Shabnam had two requests before she sent the boy with us. She asked me never to take him to her native village. She feared for his life. She also wanted us to change his name.”
Earlier this year, the Amroha Child Welfare Committee had put out advertisements for foster parents for the boy since, according to the jail manual, women inmates can’t keep children above six with them. Saifi, two years Shabnam’s junior in college, had turned up then, offering to look after him.
But Shabnam had refused to send the boy with him and had instead requested the CWC to send her son to any “government-run institution or modern madrassa”.
“We have no idea what made her change her mind and why she decided to give her son to Usman Saifi,” said Amroha District Magistrate Ved Prakash.
“On May 2, I got a call from jail officials saying I could talk to Shabnam about taking the child. My wife Suhina and I met her thrice but Shabnam refused to meet us. I had almost lost hope but on July 10, I got a message from a government official saying Shabnam wanted to meet me. My wife and I met her and she said she was ready to give her child to me,” said Saifi.
In an earlier interview to The Sunday Express, Saifi had said that he wanted to adopt Shabnam’s child because “I owe her a lot”.
“The Shabnam you hear of, the woman on death row, is not the Shabnam I know. We went to the same college… We took the same bus back from college, usually sat next to each other and shared jokes. Those days, main har maamle main kamzor tha (I was weak in all respects) — money, health, studies — and she helped me throughout.
She once paid my college fee when I couldn’t, she would help me with my notes and stand up for me in college. All this, just like an elder sister would. But we lost touch after my graduation in 2005. So when this happened, I was shocked.I told my wife that I owe a lot to Shabnam and must do this for her.”
He had said that when he met Shabnam for the first time in jail and offered to adopt her son, she had said, “The people who killed my parents will kill him… I can’t let him go”.
On Friday, Saifi’s wife Suhina told The Sunday Express, “I have heard and read about Shabnam and wanted to help her in some way. Now, my husband and I will bring up her child.”
Amroha CWC chairman A K Singh said, “The child has been given to Usman Saifi for foster care. He has to follow all norms under the Juvenile Justice Act. Usman has to take care of all the basic needs of the child – his security, health and education.
The committee will carry out a review and see how the child is being treated. After the boy turns 18, he can decide where he wants to go,” said Singh, clarifying that the child was only in the foster care of the Saifis and hadn’t been adopted. “If Shabnam’s death sentence is executed, the foster care will be cancelled and we will start the adoption process,” he said.
Shabnam and Saleem had been arrested in April 2008 for killing seven members of her family – her father Shaukat Ali, 55, mother Hashmi, 50, elder brother Anees, 35, and wife Anjum, 25, younger brother Rashid, 22, cousin Rabia, 14, and Arsh, her brother Anees’s 10-month-old baby.
In May this year, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence awarded by the Amroha sessions court to Shabnam and Saleem. On May 25, the Supreme Court stayed the death warrants.