Updated: January 1, 2017 5:46:46 am
To mark 2017, The Sunday Express meets 17-year-olds across the country touched by the big events of 2016 — to listen to their questions as they begin their first year of adulthood.
CLAD IN a pair of jeans and a shirt, Faizan Mohammed continually fiddles with his new mobile. He says he loves the television serial Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma while the Salman Khan-superhit Bajrangi Bhaijaan was the last movie he watched. He lives near the only mosque in Ganesh Talai, a locality in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa town populated by both Hindus and Muslims, but says he visits it only for Friday prayers.
The teenager’s nervous smile betrays his anxiety. Not keen to speak by himself, Faizan says he has been told by his family and relatives to avoid talking to strangers. The apprehensions are shared by many Muslim youth in the communally sensitive Khandwa town — often in the news for its link to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) — who are scared of being called by the police for questioning, particularly in the wake of recent events. Of the eight SIMI undertrials gunned down by police on October 31, hours after they allegedly escaped from Bhopal Central Jail, five were from Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh.
When the five bodies arrived from Bhopal on November 1, the town was on the edge and remained tense till their burial late into the night. A few weeks later, the word ‘martyrs’ appeared on their graves, forcing the administration to intervene and remove the inscriptions. “Please don’t write anything from what I told you. Please delete all the photographs,’’ the 17-year-old suddenly tells The Sunday Express, minutes after clicking a selfie and talking about himself. Later, he relents.
“My family is scared,’’ explains the Class 10 student of a private school, also refusing to show his house. The family’s fears stem from the recent questioning by the police of many Muslim youths after the gravestone incident. Faizan’s father Ramzan works for a contractor and supervises work at the Khandwa railway station for a salary of about Rs 3,500 a month. His older sister is married while his 19-year-old brother, he says, discontinued studies for no particular reason.
Faizan says he too isn’t interested in studying further, but given the family’s economic condition, he plans to join an ITI course after completing Class 10. His school and the tuition fees cost the family nearly Rs 650 a month, something, he says, his father is finding increasingly difficult to pay. “Why do we have to pay such hefty fees?’’ he asks. The teenager adds that his class of 22 students has more Hindus than Muslims but they never feel the divide that the town is now witness to. “It’s only when students reach home and rumours start doing the rounds that they feel it,” says a medical shop owner in the town. “Only those who live in exclusive Hindu or Muslim localities get radicalised, not everyone.”
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