"There are some things which words cant express,for everything else there is hisam onomics"

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Azhar’s story: A miracle of love

The story of the unbelievable survival of a 10-year-old boy who was shot through the forehead by the police in the aftermath of the riots in Ahmedabad.

Azharuddin walks to his school today, more than six years later, a little wobbly on his feet, but coherent in his mind and ready to often smile.

Children orphaned by the Ahmedabad riots.

A police bullet pierced right through the 10-year-old boy’s forehead, and flew out from the other end, near his neck. But Azharuddin walks to his school across the streets of Ahmedabad today, more than six years later, a little wobbly on his feet, his one hand bent permanently like a spastic, but coherent in his mind and ready to often smile. It is a resplendent miracle of love. To add further shine to the wonder, his mother Shakila Bano also survived a bullet that penetrated her chest, just inches away from her heart.

The year was 2002, nearly two months after the communal massacre that devastated the Muslim residents of the city, following the burning of a train in Godhra. Nearly a hundred thousand men, women and children were in relief camps at that time, their loved ones killed or missing, their homes burnt. An uneasy false peace had descended over the old city where most of the Muslim population of the city lived, but stray incidents of violence and vengeance were reported from time to time, and the air was clogged with rumours and fear.

Suddenly one day in April, 2002, two bodies were discovered on a highway at the outskirts of the city near the village of Ramol. The dead men were identified as activist members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one of the organisations which were at the forefront of organising the slaughter weeks earlier. It was quickly concluded that this was a revenge killing by the Muslims of the area.

Blind retaliation

In a short while, a convoy of jeeploads of local policemen, in uniform and helmets, drove stormily into the Muslim settlement that happened to fall nearest the place where the killed men had been found. This was the working class colony Mohammed Nagar. As soon as they entered the shanty, they began to fire blindly. Shakila Bano’s home falls close to the road near the entrance to the settlement. She was in her kitchen, kneading flour for the afternoon meal. She suddenly heard the commotion, the echo of bullets and the cry of her 10-year-old son Azhar, who was playing on the road. She came running out with the flour sticking to her hands, to find him lying motionless in a pool of blood around his head. A bullet has penetrated through his skull. She screamed in anguish and anger at the policemen who were driving by in their jeeps. She was silenced by another bullet, which went through her chest. She too fell unconscious.

The uproar outside their home alerted the other residents of the ghetto to rush into their houses and bolt their doors. The rampaging police continued to fire blindly. Zarina Bano was hit on the shoulder, Nanhi Bahen on the hand, and Rubina Bano on the chest. Aged Zuleikha fell dead to another bullet. Mohammed Rafiq, a railway employee, had the misfortune to be returning from work on his bicycle at that very moment. From behind their windows, the other residents saw him plead in terror for his life, showing the unforgiving policemen his identity card, only to be shot dead.

Paramilitary forces of the RAF followed quickly on the heels of the local police. Their officers were shocked by the consequences that they saw of a police run berserk. They assumed Azhar to be dead, but rushed his mother Shakila who was bleeding and unconscious to the hospital. This saved her life.

Azhar’s father Sheikh Imamuddin was at work at that time in the aluminium moulding factory where he was employed. He heard smatterings of news of the horrors of the police rampage and rushed home. By then, other police officials had arrived in the colony. Imam begged them to lend him their ambulance to take his son to the government hospital. They told him that he should take the boy to the cemetery instead, but relented after the father pleaded piteously.

In the hospital emergency ward, the doctors declared the boy dead. The shattered father sat with his head lowered in sorrow on a bench in the hospital corridor, clutching the edge of the stretcher on which his son lay, waiting to move his body to the mortuary. Suddenly he felt violent vibrations in the stretcher. For a moment, he thought it was a replay of the earthquake which had devastated the city of Ahmedabad a year earlier. But instead he raised his head to find that his son, still unconscious, was heaving with convulsions. Imam ran back to the doctors to plead with them to save the life of his son. They dismissed him, believing that the father was crazed by the grief of his son’s death. But he fell to their feet, pressing his head on their shoes. They relented finally, and three young doctors on duty walked with him to the corridor. They too were then stunned by the sight of the convulsions of the boy they had all taken to be dead, and they began running towards him. One doctor even slipped and fell in his haste.
Exemplary compassion

All three doctors were Hindu, and those were dark times when one’s religious faith notoriously clouded even the duty and humanity of many professionals like doctors and lawyers. But Imam testifies that these three young doctors showed him no prejudice, only exemplary compassion. For the next several weeks, Imam barely left the bedside of his son, as the doctors battled for his life. Imam learnt meanwhile of his wife’s miraculous survival in another government hospital, and his relatives tended her to health. Finally the day came when Shakila Bano, and then her son Azhar were both discharged from hospital and returned to their home.

Since the day his son returned home, his father Imam has only one obsession: the care of his son. The boy, for several months, could not rise from his bed, even to go to the toilet. The doctors had prescribed him a rigid (and expensive) regime of medicines and physiotherapy. Imam would work overtime in his aluminium moulding factory, and even after hours he sought any kind of work — head-loading, cleaning, construction labour — anything that would earn him extra money. The family and neighbours knew that the family may go without food, but no money would be spared for the boy’s medicines and treatment. The boy suffered terrible headaches and lapses of memory and even eyesight. But his parents persisted, his mother oblivious of the burning pain that sometimes still rose in her own chest which was also penetrated by a bullet. It was because of his parents’ unwavering love that, over several months, the boy slowly began to rise to his feet.

Imam wished to see the policemen who shot his son through the forehead, and his wife in her chest, punished. “My son was too young even to know who is a Hindu and who is a Muslim”, he lamented. But none were willing even to file his complaint. He stubbornly persisted, and filed a complaint in the magistrate’s court, but he has not heard from the court in these six years.

Instead, the police filed a complaint to justify their firing, with a story that Azhar and his mother were part of a mob that was trying to demolish a tiny temple that stands at the outskirts of their colony. The police FIR claims that the crowd was lobbing bombs at the temple. Nine people of the colony were arrested for this alleged attack on the temple. Unlike those who were arrested for the crimes in the carnage two months earlier — who easily secured bail — these Muslim accused from the colony were refused bail and remained in jail for five years. In the end, however, the court acquitted all of them, as the police was unable to prove their charges. It rankles Imam a lot that not a single policeman has been punished for raining bullets at his son and wife, and other innocent residents of Mohammed Nagar.

Slow progress

Imam himself is completely unlettered, but he was determined that his son should get the best education within his reach. Five years after the bullet entered his son’s skull, he held him by his hand as he stumbled unsteadily, and took him to a neighbouring private English medium school named “Sunflower”, established by a local Muslim entrepreneur. He begged the principal to admit his son, and he relented. Azhar is now 17 years old, but in class VI. He often finds it hard to remember things, and sometimes falls while walking. He is frequently grounded by throbbing pain, and even more so by frightening memories. Imam has warned his family and neighbours to not react when the boy has bouts of great fury and stubbornness. His teachers say that he is doing well in school, and the doctors affirm that the extent of his healing is utterly exceptional.

I believe that it is in the boy’s smiles and unsteady steps that his parents too have found some healing.


Selerines said...

Too bad.... Any way thanks for this post....

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