This piece was first published on Firstpost. All my articles on Firstpost here. After the publication of this photostory, Crowdnewsing team called me requesting to help them get in touch with Saxena family as they wanted to do a fundraiser. A crowdfunding campaign for parent’s of Ankit Saxena was run through March-April which raised around three lakh rupees.
Yashpal Saxena is a famous man. His phone doesn’t stop ringing. Journalists from reputed national and international media houses are continuously calling him for an interview. He has newfound fame as a hero who refuses to hate in spite of losing his only son Ankit Saxena to a hate crime. Poignant pieces have been written about him for giving a strong message of love, hope, kindness and peace in time of grim darkness, for which India owes a debt of gratitude.
Amid all the media attention, however, the family’s real concerns are somewhat lost. Media often is not interested in the finer details of a tragedy. We want to find a story that shows us light at the end of the tunnel, we want to celebrate a hero, but in our enthusiasm we forget, what does the hero need.
On 1 February around 8.30 pm in the middle of a busy road few metres away from their home, Yashpal Saxena’s only son, 23-year-old Ankit was brutally murdered by four members of a Muslim family allegedly, for being in love with their daughter Shehzadi (there are several versions of the story floating on the internet, most of which are denied by Ankit’s family, particularly they deny the allegations that Ankit had fixed a date of the wedding and was attempting to elope with her). The right-wing Hindutva groups were quick to view the crime through the prism of Hindu khatre mein hai (Hindus are in danger) and wanted to make it an excuse to vilify Muslim community, trigger a riot of sort, but Ankit’s family firmly held their ground refusing to make it a communal issue, a brave act that made them heroes.
As part of its ongoing journey of love and atonement, Karwan-e-Mohabbat (Caravan of Love) visited Ankit’s family, friends and neighbours on 9 February. Initiated by activist Harsh Mander, the Karwan is a team of journalists, writers, artists and civil society members who have been travelling to various parts of India visiting families of those killed in hate crimes. The journey began in September 2017 and visited over 50 families of communal hate crimes. The journey entered its second phase this year, visiting one state every month.
Karwan team visited the Saxena family to commemorate them and express gratitude for their act of kindness and love. But the grieving family wanted to share much more than their heroism. They shared their apprehensions and vulnerability.
For the most part of the meeting, Yashpal Saxena remained quiet as he could barely find the voice to speak. His nephew, Ashish Duggal did most of the talking. At one point, the grieving father suddenly broke down on the shoulders of Karwan member Md Aamir Khan, with tears rolling down his eyes he said, “He (Ankit) made me famous, but couldn’t sit by my side to see it all.” Next to him, Ashish wiped his own tears and said, “We didn’t want to be famous like this.”
One of the first things Ashish asked the Karwan team, which had a few lawyers, was about the legal position on the matter of trying a juvenile accused as an adult. One of the four members of the Muslim family accused of killing Ankit is a 16-year-old juvenile boy. Ashish is concerned that the juvenile shouldn’t get away with lesser punishment. What kind of arguments to be presented in court, who is a good lawyer, these are questions on his mind.
The future of the old ailing Saxena couple after the tragic loss of their son is very insecure. Ahead of them is a long legal battle. But having lost the sole earning member of the family they are worried about medical expenses and day to day survival. Yashpal Saxena is a heart patient, Ankit had been bearing the cost of his heart surgery but what would happen in future? Ankit’s mother has high blood pressure and diabetes, and her health is further deteriorating as she is yet to recover from the shock of seeing her son’s murder with her own eyes. The Saxena family hopes the government would provide them with some kind of lifelong medical insurance. For a regular source of income, they hope to get a license for running shops or business like Mother Dairy or LPG gas connection.
The old couple is the sole eyewitness to the murder so they fear for their own lives. They wish to move out of their small Janta flat in Tagore Garden and move to a safer location and hope the government would help in this regard. They met Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal with these concerns but returned emptyhanded without even a solid assurance that something would be done. “You all are knowledgeable people, please tell us, don’t the government have any responsibility in this situation?” Young Ashish asked the Karwan team.
These concerns shared by Ankit’s family have so far not found a place in the media. While the Delhi chief minister is reluctant to make a formal announcement of ‘compensation’ (a word Ankit’s family refuses to use) he can be heard in frequent radio ads invoking Ankit’s death and appealing to the people of Delhi to not be mute bystanders to such crimes. This did not go down well with Ankit’s family. “Why is he spending money on running ads instead of helping us? To run so many ads it surely costs some few lakhs,” said Duggal.
BJP’s Manoj Tiwari meanwhile have shown a lot of support, he has personally visited the family and ensured there is regular follow up in case they need anything. At the condolence meeting held on 12 February, Tiwari further announced that an MCD van would be provided to the family, in addition to an amount of Rs 1 lakh.
Ankit’s family, however, is not comfortable with any political party. The fact that Hindutva groups are continuously trying to communalise the tragedy is not lost on them and they absolutely do not welcome such moves. “Every day one or the other group visit us and say Ankit was a member of their Dal, “come with us, we would protest”, they say. I ask them to show us proof, whether they have any membership card or any photo of Ankit taking part in any of their rallies, but they can’t. Of course, because Ankit was not part of any Dal,” said Duggal. “We don’t want anybody to spread hate in Ankit’s name. Ankit had no other message but that of peace and love. All religions are same he always said,” Duggal said.
On the other side of the story, Shehzadi, the young woman Ankit loved, is rendered homeless as all members of her family are arrested. She is presently living in a Nari Niketan. On hearing the news of Ankit’s death she didn’t eat for three days. What is to become of her life? “We will be there for her, she can even come and live with us,” said Ashish, once again showing that light of hope in the grim darkness.
Where does this family find the strength to love when hate comes easy with structural support? Who are these people who do not hate? Are they all English-speaking liberal elites who went to universities like JNU to get lessons on secularism? Are they anti-national people who love Muslims more than Hindus? Or are they too weak and coward to not retaliate with violence?
Ankit belonged to a middles class family in Raghubir Nagar, Tagore Garden, West Delhi. His father used to run a small electrical shop and mother is a homemaker. Among Ankit’s childhood friends there are Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. They all grew up as one big family, oblivious of caste or religion, often visiting temples, mosques and gurudwaras together, eating from the same plate, with the roti coming from one home and sabji from another. Md Azhar Alam, Ankit’s best among best friends, haven’t gone home for over a week now, sleeping out in the open in front of Ankit’s house, guarding the old vulnerable Saxena couple. Other friends also take turns to do the same. Make no mistake, these are not men who can be labelled ‘weak’ by any stretch of the imagination. Most of them are well-built gym going handsome young men. There is no dearth of masculinity or patriotism in them, it is just that they never learned to hate.
Ankit’s father introduced Zeba Noor, his neighbour as “my sister” she too hasn’t gone home ever since the tragedy struck, busy taking care of the grieving parents. On hearing that one of the Karwan members is a retired scientist who runs a school for poor children, Saxena expressed his desire to initiate some kind of workshop or dialogue with such school children to spread the message of secularism and tolerance, so that no other Ankit is killed in the name of religion.
Where does so much love come from? In fact, where does hate come from?
Here is someone who refuses to hate in spite of losing his son to hate crime, and then there are those who have so much hate they can kill random strangers in the name of the cow. India must introspect and find an answer to this question, is love our natural default state of being, and communal hate purely a product of political brainwashing?