The silvery moonlight entered the tiny room through the little window right opposite the bookshelf. Pamuk, Murakami, Khaled, all seem to be stuck to each other as if telling the world ‘we stand together’. On the extreme left lay Tagore, Rushdie, and Ghosh. The smell of freshly plucked daylilies engulfed the room. The lemon daylily is beautifully arranged in the Solitaire vase kept on the old teak table next to the book shelf that Maa gifted Niloufar on her birthday last year. As the pitter-patter of the rain increased, Juliet started barking loudly. She ran across the room, trying to find a shoe to hide her face in. She jumped on the bed, next to the window, and peeped outside. Her barks were inconsolable. Maa rushed into the room. She was surprised and the panic was all over her face. She fell next to the table on her left. Her hand hit the vase and the lovely flowers fell on the ground. ‘Tanushree, is everything okay?’ shouted Pramod from the other room. Tanushree sat there, silently. She didn’t know how to respond to that question. How to tell her husband that nothing was alright.
Niloufar could charm anyone with her warm personality. She would talk like there’s no end and could cheer almost everyone up. It is just sad that today when her mother is silently sitting next to her bed and her father is still in a state of shock, there is nobody to cheer them up. They had named her Niloufar after Tanushree fell in love with the flowers on her visit to Kashmir in the fifth month of her pregnancy. Never did she think that this name would cost her daughter her life.
Just two days ago Niloufar was helping Maajid Saab, Anwar’s father in his Eid shopping. Anwar lived in the States. Niloufar and he literally grew up together, more than neighbors, they were best of friends, siblings, actually! So ever since Anwar left for the States, Niloufar would go visit his parents and never let them miss their son. Every Eid, Niloufar would help Zubeida Begum prepare the elaborate lunch and would spend the whole day at their house. The plan for this Eid was the same. Since Anwar was coming home after five long years, Maajid Saab and his beautiful wife Zubeida Begum had decided to celebrate and hold a feast. They had also decided to keep it a vegetarian affair since Anwar after going to the States started volunteering for PETA and to the disappointment of his mother, had turned vegetarian!
It happened a day before Eid when Niloufar and Maajid Saab went to the ‘sabzi-mandi’, early in the morning. Maajid Saab also picked up the large utensils from his friend Sharmaji’s ‘Divine Tent House’. It was while they were returning that a group of men on their bikes stopped them. They had tiny orange flags tied on their bikes and were wearing saffron kurtas. They stopped them and inquired if they were carrying beef in their car. Niloufar chuckled a little. She suddenly thought how her Maajid Chacha almost wanted to buy beef but remembered that they were going to have a vegetarian Eid for their son! She told the boys that they’re only carrying ‘paalak, gobi, louki and bhindi‘. Maajid Saab told the boys that they can check and even if they were carrying beef, what is the issue, it’s their festival the following day, ‘Tyohaar hai kal hamaara!’. This statement of his was what led to something that should not have happened.
Moti Babu came running towards the big white mansion and shouted at the top of his voice. Anwar had just arrived and was waiting for his father at the breakfast table. Both Zubeida and Anwar ran outside as soon as they heard Moti Babu’s voice. It took a few moments to register what Moti Babu just told him. He started his bike and in less than five minutes Anwar was holding his father’s dead body, while the policemen took Moti Babu’s statement. Anwar was devastated. Suddenly his eyes went to his car and he realized there was someone inside. He rushed towards her and tightly hugged the fragile figure. He opened his shirt and wrapped it around her naked and bruised body. The ambulance came just then.
On Eid, Anwar’s house was full of guests, not for the feast. But to give their condolence to Anwar’s family. Perhaps this was also the first Eid in so many years which Niloufar wasn’t a part of. She was tucked in her blanket, with Juliet at her feet. Tanushree and Pramod were doing rounds at the police station. The officer initially refused to file a FIR, asking them to ‘settle’ it. ‘Woh ladke log minister ke aadmi hai Madam, waise bhi ek baal na baaka hoga unka’ (Those boys are related to the minister, Madam, nothing will happen to them). Finally, with the help of a source in the police department, the FIR was lodged. That night Maa held Nilofar close to her bosom while her sari became wet with the unstoppable tears. Tanushree remembered what Moti Babu told her.
Majid Saab requested the boys to let Nilofar go, ‘Ladki ko jaane doh, padosi ki beti hai, Hindu hai’ (Let the girl go, she is my neighbor, she is Hindu). One of them asked her name. She was scared. She looked around for help. But the market was empty now. Everyone left. Moti Babu hid behind the large tree, called the police and was getting desperate with each passing minute. ‘Naam bol’ (What’s your name?). ‘Woh..Woh..Nilu..Niloufar’. ‘Bewakoof samjhi hai humko? Nilu Nilu Niloufar? Musalmaan! Jhooth bolne ki sazaa milegi zaroor’ (Do you think I am a fool? Niloufar? You Muslim. You’ll be punished for lying), shouted one of the boys. Maajid Saab cut him, ‘Niloufar Sahai’. One of the boys took out a knife and stabbed him hard, ‘Musalmaan bhi aur jhootha bhi..You bloody beef eater’ (You’re both a Muslim as well as a liar, you bloody beef eater), he kept stabbing him while Niloufar kept shouting for help. Nobody came. In broad daylight, not even a single person showed up. As they stripped Niloufar off her new Biba kurta and touched every single part of her body while using their knives to leave marks, they heard the siren of the police van and ran.
Suddenly Tanushree was numb. She was angry at Moti Babu for hiding and doing nothing. He had been their milkman for the past 23 years. But she also understood his problem. He was a single parent to four children, had he shown any kind of smartness, these boys, who were probably just out of their teens, would have skinned him alive. In this country, it is very difficult to stand for what is right. It’s worse when you belong to the below poverty line list.
The next day Anwar came to visit Niloufar. He sat next to her and she just looked away. He sat with her whole evening, silently. Tanushree baked Niloufar’s favorite sponge cake while Pramod was still at the police station. From the kitchen window, she could hear the neighborhood women gossiping downstairs. ‘What was the need of sending the girl with that Muslim man? This is what happens when you want to become a humanitarian!’ A second woman added, ‘Aur kya hona tha… din bhar ladko ke saath ghumti hai inki beti ..uss din bhi raat der aai thi choti skirt mei’ (What else would happen? The girl would always move around with boys. That night she came home so late wearing a short skirt). Even before Tanushree could go outside and say something, Moti Babu stopped his cycle next to these women and told them to arrange milk from some other milkman. Very sternly he told them ‘I don’t want to step into the house Shaitan’. The women fumed with anger and walked away, while Tanushree looked at Moti Babu from her window, Moti Babu looked up at her. They exchanged silent glances.
Pramod came home. He brought daylilies for Nilofar. Walked into the room, hugged both the children tightly. He then asked Tanushree to fill the vase with water and placed the flowers in it. He wanted to hear his daughter’s voice. She hadn’t uttered a word since the incident. Anwar got up to leave. At the main door, he informed Pramod how he is receiving hate messages that claimed that his father deserved the lynching. ‘Baba, these messages are never ending. The Police aren’t doing anything. Baba, I don’t think we’ll get justice’. Pramod hugged the boy who was taller than him now and remembered how he had carried him in his arms, on the day of his birth. Maajid Saab told him ‘Lo beta huwa hai hamaara, mein iska Abba tum iske Baba!’ (We had a son. I am his Abba and you are his Baba). Pramod assured him and told him that they will all receive justice. Nothing is greater than the truth. He told him that he will accompany him to the police station, the next morning. ‘Tumhaare Baba hai. Chinta mat karo, hum Nilu are tumhaare liye hamesha hai‘ (Your father is there. Don’t worry. I am always there for Nilu and you). Anwar left. Pramod walked into Niloufar’s room. Tanushree and he tucked Niloufar in her blanket. Pramod could see tears form in his eyes and realized he won’t be able to remain strong, so he walked up to his room. Tanushree went to the kitchen to get the sponge cake she had baked. When the room was empty, Niloufar looked outside her window. She remembered everything that happened that day. How in front of her eyes Maajid Chacha lost his life. How she saw people leaving and nobody came to help them. How these boys shouted Hindu slogans. How she was sitting naked while nobody came to give her a single cloth. How the police kept asking her ‘Kaha chuwa?’ How she had heard the neighborhood women talk this evening and how Anwar distracted her as if they heard nothing. She just didn’t think for a moment and jumped off her window.
Two months have passed since that night. Justice is still awaited. Three out of the five boys are absconding. Two of them are arrested but apparently, there is no ‘proof’ against them. Anwar decided to write an online petition. He narrated the whole story. The post received several tweets and shares and likes. Niloufar’s friend Shruti shared the post and it reflected on Tanushree’s newsfeed, while she was going through her daughter’s profile pictures. The comment section surprised her. A few learned uncles of Shruti’s had commented, ‘Why do you have to spread communal hatred?’ ‘Even Hindus were killed by Muslims. Don’t you know what happened to Kashmiri Pandits?’ ‘You are becoming anti-national. Always promoting such bogus stories’. ‘There are so many Hindu girls who get raped by Muslim men, nobody cares’.
Tanushree was disgusted. She replied saying ‘Niloufar is my daughter. Followed Hinduism. But I am surprised that her religion is so important to you. You assumed her religion by her name and declared that her story doesn’t deserve attention’. One of those several uncles replied ‘Oh. I am so sorry. She was a Hindu daughter, she was India’s daughter’.
And so did Niloufar.