LITTLE is known of how Sageer Ahmad came to be among the dead. How the eight-year-old who was playing on the terrace of his house ended up on the road below, his blue shirt and pants covered in mud, his slippers missing. The youngest victim so far in the protests against the new citizenship law, Sageer died in a stampede on December 20 as police lathicharged protesters at Bajardeeha locality in Varanasi district.
Sageer’s father Wakeel Ahmad, 38, who cooks at Lallan Dhaba nearby, says, “We are illiterate and do not have enough resources to send our children to school. They play here and there all day. Every day before leaving for work, I would see Sageer playing kancha or playing with a ball, or riding his small, red bicycle on the lane outside. Who would have known that playing on the streets would take away his life?”
Sitting outside the single-room house that he shares with his family of 10, including his parents, his children, and his brother’s family, Ahmad says, “Around seven years ago, my wife left me and my five children. Then a year ago, my 18-year-old daughter, Gausiya Nargis, died of a long illness. And now, Sageer has gone too.”
What pains him most, says Ahmad, is that he wasn’t around when Sageer, the fourth of his five children, probably needed him the most. “I was in Lohta area (around 5 km from Bajardeeha), where we had been called to cook at a function. While I was working, at 4.17 pm, I got a call saying there had been a lathi charge by police in our area. I called home, but no one picked up. Around 9.30 pm, when I came back, I realised Sageer was not home. Others in the family were also looking for him. We thought he was probably hiding. Some of my neighbours then came to me with photos of the injured. Sageer was among them. Someone said police had taken the injured to the trauma centre (of Banaras Hindu University’s hospital), so I rushed there and realised my son was among those brought dead. He must have died around 4.30 pm, and I got to know about it after midnight.”
Days after the incident, at Bajardeeha, a locality of mostly Muslim weavers, few are willing to speak of the protests or of the death of the eight-year-old. Around two dozen police personnel have been posted here since the day of the incident.
“That day after Friday namaz, 35-40 youth from mosques in Bajardeeha started a peaceful protest with placards and pamphlets. By the time they reached Dharara Bazaar, the crowd had swelled to more than a thousand. That child (Sageer) probably joined the crowd thinking it was a religious procession,” says a local.
“When the protesters reached Chhayi Bazaar, half a km from Dharara Bazaar, police got people to move towards the open ground in Dharara Bazaar and made them all sit. Then they started the lathi-charge. People started running, some into nearby lanes. No one noticed that there were a few kids too in the crowd. Sageer probably fell on the ground and people ran over him,” he adds.
Sageer’s grandmother Shehnaz says she has no idea when Sageer climbed down from the terrace and joined the crowd. “It’s normal for children here to play on the streets. Sageer used to run errands for his father and help us with chores. A few days ago, he asked me to buy him new clothes, but now we cannot even find the slippers he was wearing that day,” says Shehnaz.
Sitting on the threshold of his house, Ahmad says, “People tell me that those protesting were against CAA and NRC. We don’t know what that is, and even if we did, we are poor people who have to work every day to be able to eat at night. We do not have time to join any protest. It’s true for most people here. They join protests out of curiosity… Maybe my son was just curious,” he adds.
While the district administration has recommended ex-gratia compensation to Sageer’s family, the state government is yet to clear the proposal. “A life has been lost… and Sageer won’t come back. But if there is financial help, then maybe all 11 members of the family won’t have to live in this single room,” says Ahmad’s younger brother Shakeel.