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When Papa was lynched

Abdul Hamid and Imraz Bashir, both 20-year-old college students in Karnataka, don't know each other. But fate decided they would be linked

Imraz at two, wearing a new dress her father sent her from the Gulf.
Imraz at two, wearing a new dress her father sent her from the Gulf.

Abdul Hamid, 20, enjoys watching football but these days the television stays off as the family is in mourning. “Papa died na," he says. Gau-rakshaks (cow vigilantes) and policemen colluded in the death of the civil engineering student’s father, a cattle trader who had been buying old and sick animals from Hindu families and selling them to Muslim families for 35 years. Hussainabba was murdered in May while transporting cattle, and several people, including a police sub-inspector, were arrested.

His vehicle had been stopped often in recent years by various saffron groups and he had been beaten up a couple of times. Give up this now dangerous profession, his family often told him. But Hussainabba knew no other way to make a living and refused to depend on his sons for money.

On a Karwan-e-Mohabbat journey to Mangaluru last fortnight, we visited families—Hindu and Muslim—who had lost a father, a son, a brother to mob violence and bovine-related killings. In recent weeks, we have been forced to face the reality of lynchings—the searing image of villagers dragging the body of a victim in Hapur as if he were a carcass as three policemen walk alongside nonchalantly was added last month to the New India Lynching Memorial whose growing collection our children will inherit.

Yet we don’t hear enough about the families who get left behind or the impact of these crimes on people close to the victims.

I was particularly moved by Abdul and Imraz Bashir, 20, whose voices still break when they revisit their stories. Their homes are a half-hour drive apart in Mangaluru—which has one of India’s highest literacy rates—and though they come from different economic backgrounds and don’t know each other, an accident of fate linked them forever. Both their fathers were murdered in hate crimes earlier this year.

“Papa always said study hard, go to the Gulf and earn money," says Abdul. Hussainabba was a news junkie and switched on the television at 6am every day for his fix of Kannada news on TV9. He told his youngest son it was easier to get a well-paying job abroad than in India, and after Abdul finishes his degree from the PA College of Engineering next year, he will follow his father’s advice.

Hussainabba also talked to his family about demonetization, rising prices and GST.

Abdul says his father cried when the Bharatiya Janata Party became the single largest party in Karnataka’s legislative assembly election in May, but he was happy again when the Janata Dal (Secular) formed the government with the Congress. “My whole family votes for the Congress," Abdul says. “My dad used to tell us what a nice guy the previous prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was."

On Sundays, Abdul hangs out with friends from college. The boys go to the nearby beaches, split themselves into two teams of four or five each and play kabaddi. “I learnt it from a friend’s daughter who used to be a national player," he says, clarifying that the girls don’t play with them.

Who’s your bestie, I inquire, with the naivety of a city person. “Papa," he says. “I used to go with him on weekends since he didn’t know driving. He used to ride pillion and tell me to slow down," he says.

Imraz, 20, also shared a special relationship with her father Ahmed Bashir. She is the only girl among four siblings—Imran, Irfan, Imraz and Izwan. After her father named his first-born Imran, he decided all his children would have names beginning with the same letter. He was clearly partial to his daughter; their house is named Imraz, Arabic for precious girl, she says.

Bashir worked in the Gulf for 26 years. He had only been back a year and stayed at home for the first six months. Eventually, he started going to Classic Fast Food, a nondescript eatery that he ran with a partner on the highway near his home. The small place sold everything from noodles to shawarma. In January, he was attacked while he was closing shop. He staggered out and collapsed on the road, eventually succumbing to his wounds in the ICU.

It was a communal revenge killing—a group of Hindus wanted to avenge the murder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker Deepak Rao, 31 (we visited the home of the unmarried RSS worker who lived with his mother and hearing-impaired brother and who was murdered over a trivial dispute about erecting political buntings), and Bashir was a random Muslim target. Both men were killed on the same day.

Coastal Karnataka has its own peculiar brand of communal revenge murders—Hindu kills Muslim kills Hindu kills Muslim—and Imraz could easily have been Isha, but this story already has more symmetry than most real life tales.

Unlike Hussainabba, Bashir kept his children away from politics. “He was always the first to stay away from any controversy. When anything happened, he would call family members and say, be careful, stay at home," says Imraz, whose nails are either bitten by habit or grief, I didn’t ask. When someone asks for her take on the current political climate, she says her father always sheltered her from such things.

Imraz, who will soon be a third-year BSc MLT (medical lab technician) student, wanted to give up studies after her father died and stay at home to support her stricken mother.

“We never thought my papa will go like this," she says. “If we had known, we could also go with him only. We don’t want a life like this," she says, recalling that she heard of the accident through a phone call from her aunt. “Don’t tell your mother yet," she said.

Imraz never got a chance to say bye to her father in the ICU. Instead of drowning in their grief, the day Bashir died her eldest brother Imran appealed to his community to stay calm and not continue Mangaluru’s cycle of revenge.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets at @priyaramani

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