Main accused in Junaid lynching case arrested

NEW DELHI: Police arrested on Saturday the fugitive knifeman who stabbed 16-year-old Junaid Khan and his brothers on a Mathurabound train on June 22 in a fatal communal attack.

The 32-year-old man was caught in Maharashtra’s Dhule, where he was hiding since the attack that triggered national outrage and protests as it became the latest example of growing religious intolerance in India.

“I heard the news of his arrest and am told he is being brought to Faridabad. I am satisfied with the police’s role,” said Jalaludin Khan, slain teenager’s father.

Police said the accused confessed to have stabbed Junaid and his associates when they were returning to Ballabhgarh after Eid shopping in New Delhi.

CONTINUED ON P 6 BALLABHGARH: Last month, 16-year-old Junaid Khan and his three brothers were going home after a hearty shopping spree for Eid. But what reached the family’s modest home in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh was his bloodied corpse after a mob lynched him on the train.

Two weeks later, fear still stalks the train and Muslims generally travel in silence. Since Junaid was killed, most of the village has avoided taking the train. HT accompanied Junaid’s younger brother Afzal and cousin Faisal on the same route.

PAIN LINGERS Aboard the local train on which 16­year­old Junaid Khan was lynched , HT finds that the EMU local has become a symbol of despair and horror for teen’s village

Hindu­Muslim relationship is fine… It is only the politicians who gain from dividing the communities. This cow business is all about votes. SABIR ALI, vegetable trader

BALLABHGARH: About two weeks after a young Muslim boy was killed on board a train for being a suspected beef eater, the same EMU local between Mathura and Delhi was hurtling down the tracks.

A lifeline for residents of Ballabhgarh in Haryana from where 16-year-old Junaid Khan hailed, the train was sparsely crowded. In a compartment sat Junaid’s younger brother Afzal and cousin Faisal along with a few Muslim traders.

Everybody was sitting back and engaging in banter until the conversation turned to Junaid’s lynching on June 22. The mood suddenly turned grim.

Sabir Ali, a vegetable trader, insisted those behind the killing were twisted in their heads. “In my experience, Hindu-Muslim relationship is fine. We live and work next to Hindus. No problems. It is only the politicians who gain from dividing the communities. This cow business is all about votes, right?” he asked.

Junaid’s brothers kept quiet but another co-passenger jumped i n. “You are totally right,” Kundan Sharma, a middle-aged businessman agreed. “It’s all about politics”.

But what Sharma added thereafter sent tempers flying. “But we must also consider the influence of “bahari taqate (external forces)” — Pakistan, Bangladesh,” he said after a few seconds of silence, turning the compartment into a war zone.

“You think we are from Pakistan?” Sabir Ali retorted, shaking with outrage. “Here, check my phone! See if it has a Pakistani sim card.”

“I don’t mean you,” a somewhat startled Sharma replied in defence. Ali responded, “Pakistan means nothing to us. The terrorists are terrorists. They have no religion. Indians Muslims love India.”

“Everyone should love India,” added Sharma. “There is no country like our country in the whole world.”

Junaid’s brothers stayed silent, their faces turning pale with horror at the words. Their destination was just 10 minutes away. On getting down at Ballabhgarh station, they told HT they are not too keen to step out of the safety of their village anytime soon. “Even thinking about it gives me a fright,” said Faisal.

SYMBOL OF FEAR

It’s because of this fear that no one in his village, Khandawali, seven km into Ballabhgarh, had got on a train since Junaid’s killing.

His father, 50-year-old Jalaluddin, can’t remember when people in his village stopped travelling out of fear last. Junaid’s brothers got on the train this Thursday only in the company of HT reporters.

June 22 changed everything for the village. Before that, he said, the local trains — a series of them pass Ballabgarh station on their way to Delhi every day — were the common mode of transport for the villagers: cheap and quick. The villagers, mostly Muslims, used to travel to Delhi regularly for work and to meet relatives.

“Since that day, no one in the village dares to take that train again,” said Jalaluddin. “Fear has set deep in the hearts of everyone here.”

“My sons wear a kurta, topi and beard. It’s not a coincidence that only they were attacked in a compartment full of people. The train has become a symbol of fear for the villagers,” the father said.

MEASURING GRIEF

Inside Junaid’s home, his mother Saira and sister Rabiya are still inconsolable, their wails echoing through the village. “Junaid, mere masoom bachche kyon chale gaye tum (Junaid my innocent son, why did you leave us?)” the mother cries out lying on a cot.

Even as the family grieves, local politicians, relatives, police and railway officials keep dropping in at their single-storeyed house.

One such visitor was an officer from Haryana Railways’ department for claims of injury and death while onboard a train. A college graduate was summoned by the family to interpret Amod Malik’s elaborate instructions on filling the forms and attaching relevant documents.

“Then,” said Malik, “the papers would go to a court where a judge will decide, based on the investigating officer’s testimony, if the claims stand.”

A death in the train calls for a compensation of ₹4,00,000. Under railways rules, the loss of a thumb stands for ₹1,20,000; the loss of two fingers of one hand is worth ₹80,000.

But as the government calculates the value of Junaid’s life, his family reels from his death.

Faisal Khan and Afzal Khan had gone to Asaoti station to look for their brothers’ blood on the platform. It took them some time, but they finally found a blotch of dried blood between the bottom of stairs and an electric pole on Platform 3.

“But this isn’t Junaid’s blood,” said Afzal, convinced of his instinct. Junaid wasn’t the only bleeding man to be thrown out by the mob on that platform. Shaqir Khan, his younger brother, who had climbed into the train at Ballabgarh station after getting a panicked call from Junaid, was also stabbed multiple times until the train reached the next station, Asaoti, and left to die a few metres from Junaid.

“This is Shaqir’s blood,” said Faisal. “This is the spot where he must have landed.”

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