All that the debt-ridden family now wants is justice and compensation

The crack of the bullet fired in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, on March 15 echoes to this day at Kuppepadavu, a small hamlet in Dakshina Kannada.

A pall of gloom has settled on a modest house by a rocky outcrop in the village as the death of Mohammad Siraj (27) in Dammam has left behind a mountain of debt for 12 family members, including six children.

Foreign chocolates and stationery for the children lay on a table in the house: the family said they were delivered along with the news of the death. “He was attached to the children and sent them as a surprise after one of them asked for chocolates. This was his last parcel,” said Ahmed Bava, Siraj’s brother-in-law.

In August last year, with the family facing the brunt of poverty and debts, Mohammad Unha Byari’s youngest son left for Dammam to work as a driver.

Mistaken for thief

On March 15, as he strode out to the fields next to his house late in the night to telephone his mother, he was shot at. He tripped and fell while fleeing in panic and hit his head on a rock. He died hours later. Reports from Saudi Arabia say the shooter, who is the younger brother of Siraj’s employer, surrendered two days later, telling the police he had mistaken Siraj for a thief.

That bullet shattered the family’s dream of a good life. “One misfortune after the other has struck our family,” said Mr. Byari. “I’m a heart patient, and treatment without surgery cost lots of money. My elder son (Fazil Rehman) fell from a building and suffered brain damage. He cannot work continuously anymore. The husband of my eldest daughter abandoned her, leaving her and her four young daughters in our care.”

The debts mounted to an extent that Siraj, who was the only earning member, decided to leave his job as a lorry driver here and headed to Dammam on the advice of a friend. Siraj’s tickets, passport and visa procedures cost the family another Rs. 1 lakh, bringing the total debt to around Rs. 5 lakh, which accrued after the marriage of his three sisters. Siraj funnelled his earnings to his family — sending Rs. 22,000 a month — and the loans started to reduce and the children were admitted to school.

Uncertainty

But today, the uncertainty shrouds the financial prospect of the family, including Siraj’s wife Nazeema (27) and two sons — Nusrath (2) and 10-month-old Nasif.

His mother, Zubeida, remains mute in shock.

“Every night, he would call her up. On Friday [March 15] night, he did not. And it is difficult to believe that he died because he wanted to make a call to his mother,” said Fazil Rehman.

The family could not even catch a last glimpse of Siraj as the authorities said it would take weeks for the formalities to be completed in the absence of a family member. The body was buried in Dammam.

“Of course, there is anger. If he (the shooter) were here, we would have assaulted him … But Siraj died there … alone and away from his family. All we can hope for is justice and compensation to look after his family,” Mr. Byari said.