Other States

‘Not CAA, but poverty our biggest enemy’

Shagir Ahmed’s grandparents and brothers at Bajardiha in Varanasi.

Shagir Ahmed’s grandparents and brothers at Bajardiha in Varanasi.  

“We don’t know anything about CAA or NRC...What is it?...Poverty is our biggest enemy,” says septuagenarian Mukhtar Ahmed, grandfather of Shagir Ahmed — a nine-year-old boy who died in a stampede caused during the police lathi-charge on anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens protesters on December 20 in Varanasi’s Muslim dominated Bajardiha locality. Like him, the majority of residents too are unaware about the CAA and the NRC. They, however, admit that there is a feeling fear in the city, especially after these twin issues were raised.

Only 10 days after Shagir’s death, the poor family has apparently come to terms with the tragedy. On Saturday, Vakil Ahmed (father of the deceased) went to work as a cook along with his 11-year-old second son Zahir Ahmed, while his wife Maiser Jahan was at her parents house. Their other two sons Nasir Ahmed, 12, and Tanzim Ahmed, 6, pass their day exploring some daily work in neighbourhood shops.

Shagir was Vakil’s third son. The children do not go to school or local madarsa for studies. “If they don’t work what will they eat?...Everyday we’ve to work and earn to survive – death or no death in the family...studies are a luxury for our children,” says Vakil’s younger brother Shakil, who also works as a cook in the locality.

Both Vakil and Shakil live with their ageing parents and seven, now six, children in a ramshackle house. In one room on the ground floor Vakil lives with his parents and children while the room above is younger brother Shakil’s accommodation. A dingy bylane near the Bajardiha police outpost leads to the entrance of the house with a tattered awning.

Weavers and cooks

“Bajardiha is the largest Muslim-dominated locality of Varanasi town with about a 3.5 lakh population,” says Irshad Ahmed, 28, a close relative of the family. “Most of the residents are weavers or work as cooks or masons. The tragic incident happened after Friday namaz on December 20 when residents had returned from the local mosque and a group of them suddenly started shouting anti-CAA and NRC slogans,” he says.

Shagir’s sudden death has shattered his grandmother Shehnaj Akhtar. “He was handsome of all our children but Allah had something else for him...see how good looking he was,” she says while showing Shagir’s passport-size photograph. Her husband and two grandchildren are sitting beside her on a cemented slab outside the front door of the house. A group of residents vent their ire against the unprovoked lathi-charge by the police that day.

Do they now fear going outside at odd hours? “Yes, we even fear policemen who are supposed to be our protectors...the atmosphere in Varanasi has become vitiated and frightening these days ...nobody is safe,” they say in unison while asking, “Will someone take responsibility for Shagir’s death.”

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 1:18:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/not-caa-but-poverty-our-biggest-enemy/article30446365.ece

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