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Fatal fracas

A thorough investigation of South Delhi boy Mohammad Azeem’s death derails the ‘mob lynching’ narrative. The truth is that a scuffle between minors took a nasty turn

As recorded on the CCTV camera installed in the Jamia Faridiya Madrasa compound and related by three of Azeem’s friends, a scuffle broke out between two groups of children playing in the ground inside the compound. These were children from the Madrasa and from the adjoining JJ Cluster, a jhuggi cluster called Valmiki camp. During the scuffle, Azeem was pushed and thrown on a motorcycle nearby, and died. The person who picked up Azeem from the ground and placed his body at the mosque was from Valmiki camp.

Was it a case of mob lynching? No. Those involved in the scuffle were all minors, probably of equal number on either side. Was there an exchange of communal abuse? Azeem’s friends said abuses were hurled at them but these were not communal in nature.

A year and a half ago, Azeem joined his brothers—Mustakin, 13 and Mustafa, 11—at the Jamia Faridiya Madrasa located in South Delhi’s Begumpur area. Known as one the most disciplined among the students, he was taking Arabic and Urdu classes here. “Azeem ne Quran ke char para pure kar liye the (Azeem had completed four parts of the Quran),” remembers his brother Mustafa. While the elder brothers would wake up at 4 am, Azeem had the liberty to wake up by 5 am. Their classes started at different times and later, they would take care of daily chores.

October 25 was a holiday. Mustafa and Mustakin had gone to Hauz Rani locality with all the other older students. A group of younger students stayed behind in the Madrasa. Mustafa told Newslaundry, “Azeem jaise chhote bache sadak paar nahi kar sakte isliye wo yahin ruke the (As small kids like Azeem can’t cross the roads, they stayed back.)”

The CCTV footage shows the two groups of children playing. The children in white are from the madrasa and the others are from the jhuggi. One of the madrasa students can be seen hitting a child from the jhuggi and they start fighting. Azeem is the youngest and waits on the Mazar wall, watching. He eventually enters the scuffle, possibly to stop the fighting groups. Barely seconds later, he is pushed and falls on a motorcycle parked there. The incident happened at 10.06 am.

Azeem was rushed to the Madan Mohan Malviya Hospital. The caretaker of the madrasa, 62-year-old Mohammad Ali Jauhar, told Newslaundry Azeem was declared brought dead. Another resident of the madrasa, Mohammad Mukim, who took Azeem to the hospital, said, “It seems he probably died here itself, in our arms. However, the doctors did try to revive and check him for more than an hour. We finally informed his parents about his death.”

The madrasa organised a Namaz-e-Janaza for Azeem. Aam Aadmi Party lawmakers Somnath Bharti and Amanatullah Khan were both present at the meeting held at the Madrasa. The gathering put forward a demand for compensation for the family and Bharti assured them it would happen.

The accused
Friday prayers began and the crowds brought a frenzy with them. There were outsiders, politicians and even advocates who came in solidarity. Each had a different version of the story to tell, and the common thread in their narratives was the mob lynching angle. It was repeated over and over again—that the accused who hit Azeem were older kids and did so in hatred.

Three of Azeem’s friends confirmed the names of two of the accused to Newslaundry, and we verified their ages from their identity proofs. K is 12 years old. His sister showed Newslaundry K’s Aadhaar card which lists his year of birth as 2006. His sister said their parents are still at the police station, and she’s worried about the security of her brother.

A few metres away, in the extremely narrow lanes of Valmiki colony, is D’s house. His brother, a Class 9 drop-out, told Newslaundry that D is either 12 or 13—D is younger than his brother and sister who are 15 and 14 years old, respectively. D’s brother said, “He studies in Class 8 in the government school in Malviya Nagar. These are common fights. Even I had a scuffle with these madrasa kids last Diwali. They beat us when we go to play there.” D’s parents were also at the police station.

A short distance away, Newslaundry met S’s two older brothers. After a search of about 15 minutes, they showed this correspondent S’s Aadhaar card which says he was born in 2005. In another lane, Rajkumar Paswan, a native of Bihar, waits for his son T’s return. “The last time I met my son was on Thursday, around 11 or 12 in the night.” He showed this correspondent his son’s Aadhaar card. T is 12 years old. His father says, “The madrasa guys had first held our son. We brought him back. Later, we (the parents of accused) were informed that we need to take our sons to the police station.” T was arrested at the police station itself.

As all accused in the case are minors, they will be sent to juvenile homes.

Given the location of the Valmiki camp and the madrasa, the path which opens into the Madrasa gives the residents of Valmiki camp comparatively easier access to the main road. But that’s the root cause of the tussle.

“It’s not a path meant for common use. It is part of the madrasa compound and it’s our place of worship,” said Maulana Ali, the maulana of the madrasa. “Drunkards and drug addicts pass through the masjid, they play satta (gamble) here. How can we allow such activities inside our place of worship?”

Advocate Shakeel Akhtar showed Newslaundry the magistrate order which says the madrasa authorities can build a wall to stop the unauthorised use of the land as a passage or path. Akhtar said, “The police should have ensured the building of the wall.”

In fact, the spirited mob once decided to build the wall right away, to end the friction between them and the people from the jhuggi. However, elders asked them “not to take law in their [own] hands”.

Property issue
The madrasa authorities and local Muslims say there have been several attempts by Valmiki camp residents to create an atmosphere of hostility. Maulana said, “This is a Wakf property. Why would you burn a Raavan inside our compound? Taking a taazia (procession) to a temple would mean wilfully disrupting the peace.”

But now we come to the other side of the story. The residents of Valmiki camp don’t deny several events brought up by the madrasa authorities—using the path and the plot, and the Raavan effigy incident this year.

Mohammad Shehzad, 22, who belongs to one of the five Muslim families living in the jhuggi, explained, “We didn’t burn the effigy inside the masjid. But yes, we did keep the Raavan’s parts inside the compound before Dussehra, as the children didn’t have any other place to store it.”

Residents of Valmiki camp say the area serves many purposes—a path, parking at times, a playground for children, a hangout zone for youth and also an emergency exit. They also have their own complaints. “The masjid people beat up our children. And often create trouble for us,” 42-year-old resident Ajay said.

Liyaqat Ali Saroj—the woman whom Maulana Ali said was behind the tension—does wield control over a certain section of the community. She belongs to the minority community and says the allegations against her are false. “In fact, my own son was attacked in the plot recently,” she says. “We don’t have any other land even for parking. If there is an earthquake, that is the fastest exit for us. Should we be left here to die?”

Women argue that the land is government property and any attempt to block would deny them easy access to the main road. Interestingly, even madrasa students such as Azeem’s friend Mohammad Sahil, use the path to enter the jhuggi to buy groceries for daily use.

Kamala, another resident, said, “The madrasa guys file a complaint or blame anyone who fights for the jhuggiwallahs.” Her son Bunty was the one accused of threatening the madrasa residents. “They are hardly concerned about the child’s death and are more interested in the plot they have occupied. Why do they want to build a wall today when the child has died?”

Meanwhile, during the Namaz, announcements were made from the masjid saying that Azeem’s death was like several attacks on Muslims happening across the country. Shehzad and Saroj both complain that these announcements will help no one. Saroj says, “If tomorrow all the Hindus living in the jhuggi start believing the same, what will the few Muslim families do? Where will we go?”

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