Eidi in their pockets, little ones dressed in bright salwar-kameez and sherwanis went around the village feasting on ice cream and golgappas, oblivious to the fear in their village. But the older children understood the tension that had gripped Khandawli on a solemn Eid, days after 15-year-old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death on a Mathura-bound train by a mob that mocked his skull cap and called him a “beef eater”.
“The children are scared; they know what has happened — that our poshaak (attire) attracted this tragedy. They want to know, can something like this happen to them. How do I answer that question?” says 39-year-old Mubarik Hussain, a driver who lives near Junaid’s home. “Since news of Junaid’s death broke, I have asked my children not to go anywhere after sunset, and to step out of the village only for important work.”
The fear has prompted other parents to issue similar ‘advisories’. Even Junaid’s father has cancelled the train tickets of three of his sons, who were supposed to travel to Surat for studies.
Rafeeq Ahmed, an employee at a private firm, says he has told his children “not to get into an argument, even if the other person is in the wrong”. “When they go to the market or college, I fear if they will return. What if someone asks them their name and kills them because it’s Ahmed? Muslims are stereotyped as terrorists, beef eaters and thieves, and killed because of it,” says the 48-year-old.
Mohd Azharuddin, 27, who works in Delhi, says he has often been ‘profiled’ for keeping a beard and wearing a skull cap, but Junaid’s murder has escalated the fear in his mind. Sharing what he teaches his children and younger siblings, he says, “Kuchh mat bolo, chup chaap sab sun lo. When I leave home, I wear shirt-pant, not kurta-pyjama, because that way no one can tell I am Muslim, and I can avoid being called a Pakistani.”
Once the village found out about the brutality that Junaid and his two brothers faced on Thursday night, frantic calls went out to children from Khandawli working or living outside the village. “This incident hit too close to home. I was in Aligarh when I received calls from home asking me to be safe while travelling to Khandawli. We were told to avoid certain areas,” says 28-year-old Mohd Jamshed, a student at Aligarh Muslim University who has come home for Eid.
Some parents advised their children to avoid the local train and opt for the Metro. “It’s more expensive but at least it’s safer because there are CCTVs. These trains are not secure at all,” says 26-year-old telecom engineer Shakeel.
For the young ones, too, celebrations were far more muted. “We wanted to watch a movie but mummy-papa told us not to go anywhere. They seem scared,” says 12-year-old Yasin. Kamil Khan, 15, chimes in, “They called Junaid a mulla and killed him. Our parents have told us not to talk to anyone we don’t know and not to leave the village.”