The Entire World Saw Afrazul Khan Being Brutally Murdered By Shambhulal Regar, Why Is There Still No Justice?
How many more Afrazuls do we need before we acknowledge this "anomaly" as a "regularity"?
“How many times did my husband hold his feet and beg for mercy, but he still did not leave him”, mourns Gulbahar Bibi, Afrazul Khan’s widow. She breaks down while attempting to recollect and narrate to Karwan-e-Mohabbat, the horrors her husband met on December 6, 2017.
It was a morning like any other when Afrazul Khan went for a cup of tea to the “labour chowk” Jalchakki in Rajsamand, Rajasthan, where migrant Bengali workers customarily gather to find work every day. The last time Afrazul spoke to his family was on that morning. He and his wife would call each other at 8.30 am every day. He asked Bibi the same questions that he would on any other day.
When one is trying to express Afrazul’s helplessness, one falls short for words. There is an uneasy realization that one is writing to evoke empathy in indifferent Indians who discard Mohammad Akhlaq and Afrazul Khan as isolated targets of hate. They are unnoticeable anomalies in the grand secular narrative of India. No words seem enough to describe and condemn the frightful manner in which Afrazul was maimed, tortured, hacked and burned to death. All this while, his killer, Shambhu Lal Regar, enjoyed the spectacle and even made his 14-year-old nephew film the grotesque act.
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What thoughts come back in Bibi’s mind every time someone enquires about her husband and films the interaction? Is she also reminded of Afrazul’s last video? “Whenever I see people together with their families, I can feel a fire inside my chest, and I feel the pain of losing my husband even more. I want justice for what they did to my husband. My little grandchildren keep asking me ‘Where is grandfather? Why is he not here?’ They say ‘Our grandfather has been killed’. They keep saying this all the time. That fire is always burning inside me.”
Who was Afrazul Khan?
A poor labourer?
A father to three daughters?
A 45-year-old sole provider to a marginalised, under-resourced family?
A Bengali migrant, who, in search of better work wages, had moved from the comfort of his village in Malda to the hostile, other side of India: Rajsamand in Rajasthan?
Was he simply a man with no rights — a weak Muslim citizen in a strong, “secular” country?
Afrazul ticks all the aforesaid descriptors, and you cannot mourn him as just one single category; or protest the injustice meted to his family and not consider that he had dreams, a life, a family, beliefs and feelings. It is essential to scrutinise his murder not just as a hate crime, although hate remains the cardinal reason behind his blood-curdling slaughter.
Afrazul’s presence at Shambulal Regar’s deserted plot-turned-abattoir on that wintry afternoon was purely circumstantial. He was just another Bengali worker, toiling hard to support his family. He was lured on the pretext of employment by an unknown man, who later butchered him to pieces with a hand-axe, poured kerosene on his bleeding body and burnt him alive. Afrazul’s only sin was his Muslim identity. Ironically, his Muslim identity was his killer’s only defence.
His venomous rationale found thousands of sympathisers all over the country. Crowdfunding campaigns were organised for Regar’s wife. The Hindu outfits who ran this campaign reasoned that his wife had not committed any crime, so why should she suffer. On the other hand, the Afrazul’s family’s loss was belittled, publicly mocked and celebrated. Regar became an overnight hero for Hindu hardliners. His effigy was paraded along with the images of the Hindu God Ram on Ramnavami.
Meanwhile, Regar later released two more inflammatory videos from jail. If one analyses these carefully, one cannot tell the difference between the vitriolic language used by Regar and the words of some of the sitting members of the Indian Parliament.
Regar’s felicitation did not end here. In 2019, the Hindu Navnirman Sena even offered him a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections.
Afrazul could not have imagined the tremendous hate that rules the heart of his fellow countrymen. In a strange faraway land, he merely wanted to make a living. He knew no hate. He had a few good friends and hardly any relatives in Rajasmand. Similarly, he had fewer or rather no enemies. His death has shaken the faith of other migrants.
Qazi Ranu Hassan, Afrazul’s brother-in-law tells Karwan-e-Mohabbat how the murder changed the lives of other migrant workers from the community struggling in that region.” We used to build and mend roads there, add slopes to them. It was a government job. After that incident, very few people are going back to work there (Rajasthan). Nobody wants to go there anymore. Earlier 20 people would go; now hardly five go there to work,” he says.
Afrazul carried a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders. He supported a daughter who was to appear for her board examinations. He would tell his youngest daughter, Habiba, to work hard to become an officer one day. She still pursues her education, but the memory of her father and his murder has not dwindled from her mind.
“While I was studying for my board exams, I used to imagine my father calling me up and guiding me to study well. He would tell me to concentrate and motivate me. And I was missing it at that time, and it made me cry,” laments a shattered Habiba.
I wonder if his family still has the gory video of his murder on their phones. It must be unbearable for his daughters’ ears to hear him groan in pain and cry for mercy for a crime he has not committed.
Is the video not enough evidence to get justice? Why does the court burden the family to produce witnesses? Have we not seen the video? Has the killer not publicly taken pride in his act?
“The government and the entire world has seen how brutally he was killed, so we want him to be punished and get his punishment as soon as possible. I don’t want anything else. My father suffered so much pain. It is an unforgettable pain which is constantly in our heads, and we hear it all the time. I will never forget that pain in my life,” cries Razia, Afrazul’s other daughter.
The “fire” burning in Bibi and her daughters must become a guiding torch for justice lest it burns down everything. We are left with two big questions that behold the idea of an inclusive and just India:
How many more Afrazuls do we need before we can acknowledge this “anomaly” as a “regularity”? Whom do we stand with — Bibi and her daughters in their grief, or Shambhu and the merry-makers of “New India” in their celebration?