This is a tale of two fathers. One who lost his son to the communal clash at Kasganj, and the other who managed to escape with his life but lost one eye before he could see his daughter, born the day after the clash.
The violence was triggered by a rally to mark Republic Day. The clashes led to firing from both communities. Abhishek Gupta, a 22-year-old BCom final-year student, was killed, while 35-year-old Akram Habib, who owns a hardware store in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh, lost an eye.
On Sunday, Abhishek’s father Sushil Gupta, a compounder at a private hospital, sat outside his home, receiving calls from television channels and greeting the visiting political leaders. In his hands, he clutched a photograph of his son who, he said, was planning to go for further studies outside the state.
Denying allegations of Abhishek’s links with right-wing groups, the 53-year-old said, “My son was the youngest of three, but he wasn’t spoilt at all. He had always been active with social work and started an NGO recently to help people. This organisation would distribute rugs in the winter and also conduct blood donation drives.”
Abhishek’s body was brought home wrapped in the national flag and since then, his family has been demanding that he be accorded martyr status. However, police officers maintained that it was yet to established if Abhishek was part of the mob that instigated the violence or not.
Recuperating from his injuries in a ward at Aligarh’s J N Medical College & Hospital, Habib said his wife and he hadn’t even got around to deciding on a name for their day-old daughter.
Habib said he had come to Kasganj, his wife’s home town, from Lakhimpur Kheri on Republic Day as his wife Anam (27) was expected to deliver the next day. They were to go to the Aligarh medical college for the delivery. After the violence, they decided to leave via a village route in their car to avoid the mobs.
“I stopped to ask some people for directions. They saw my beard and identified me as a Muslim and beat me mercilessly with stones and sticks. They put a gun to my head. They only spared my life because they took pity on my pregnant wife and me. She was screaming throughout,” he said.
Habib claimed that police did not offer help and he had to drive himself and his wife to the hospital despite being injured. “I leaned out of the car window and drove (because smoke from burning properties blocked view). I could barely see, but at that point, I was just trying to get my wife out alive.”
Asked about his day-old daughter, he said, “I am just glad I got to see her face. Nothing else matters to me. I don’t even wish ill to those people who attacked me.”
At his house, Sushil Gupta too mourned the remains of the day. “Abhishek was my youngest. Life has little purpose now.”