Several hours have passed since he made a bold statement about not accepting his youngest son and alleged terrorist Saifullah’s body. Sartaj Khan makes it clear that it was not an angry or a spontaneous reaction. But even as he stands by his decision, he demands that the allegations made by the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad be proved, for he had never imagined that this day would come.
According to a PTI report, Mr. Sartaj said: “A traitor cannot be my son, straight and simple.” He refused to take Saifullah’s body, saying, “A traitor cannot be related to me, let alone be my son.”
Saifullah, he says, was indeed the black sheep in the family, despite being the only one among his three sons (Khalid and Mujahid are the other two) to enter college. But the tannery supervisor’s reason to complain was nowhere close to the narrative provided by the police.
“His reluctance to support the family by taking up a job was why I was miffed. I can say with surety that there was nothing in his behaviour that suggested he could be a terrorist or even an outlaw,” says Mr. Sartaj.
The strained relations between the father and son persisted for a long time. In between, Saifullah dropped out of Manohar Lal Mahavidyalaya after finishing second year, tried his hand at learning computer accounting and even assisted a lawyer in preparing sales tax cases. But for one reason or the other, stable employment eluded him and, with the passage of time, his father’s impatience only grew.
Sitting in the courtyard of their single-storey house next to a mosque in Maqdoom Nagar, Mr. Sartaj recalls that fateful evening when he forced Saifullah to leave. “A couple of months ago we had a huge argument. I slapped him and asked him to leave the house. We never heard from him again,” he says.
His eldest son and the only other accessible member of the family Mr. Khalid adds that Saifullah told them before leaving that he would look for opportunities in Mumbai and try to travel to Saudi Arabia for work.
It is a rather curious coincidence that Danish, one of Saifullah’s three cousins arrested for allegedly being a part of the same module, left home after a similar argument with his father Naseem, Mr. Sartaj’s elder brother.
Religious his brother may have been, but Mr. Khalid never saw signs of radicalisation. “He enjoyed music and a lot of other things that hardliners may not approve of,” he says. Their mother died in an accident in 2014, but the family does not believe that brought about any change in Saifullah.
As the conversations with Mr. Sartaj and Mr. Khalid is on, the other members of the family are in the next room. The door is closed and the only sound that can be heard is from the television of people lauding the father’s statement.
Mr. Sartaj’s remarkable composure is missing in Mr. Khalid’s response to the tragedy. He says they won’t accept the body because “our father has made the decision and we stand by it.”
The narrative too has changed a bit since the encounter in Lucknow. Investigators are now non-committal about the arrested persons being part of the Islamic State. Among other things, the family also wants a probe into the “seizure” of a huge cache of arms from the house where Saifullah was gunned down.
The family’s theory is that even in the event of the allegations being true, it was more because of bad influence of others around him, rather than Saifullah’s own inclination towards radicalisation.
This is where the focus shifts to the cousins Danish, Faisal and Imran, who were also arrested and are believed to have tipped off the police about Safiullah's location.
“They were welcome here like cousins anywhere else are. If there was anything beyond this, it's for the police to find out,” says Mr. Sartaj.