Despite Life Putting Him Through Bitter Test, Ankit’s Father Preaches HarmonySomreet.Bhattacharya@timesgroup.com
Rarely does one of the worst victims of religious hatred become one of the biggest advocates of religious harmony. Rarely does a person struggling to make both ends meet decline an offer to become the poster child of a socio-political organisation. Rarely does a person filled with deep hatred towards someone able to distinguish between that individual and his community.
But Yashpal Saxena is a rare person. When his son and only child, Ankit Saxena, 23, was murdered in front of his eyes by a neighbour, he had the choice to fill himself with bitterness and bigotry—or live a life of sanity and reason. He chose the latter.
A few days after he hosted an iftar (breaking of fast in community during the month of Ramzan), The Times of India visited him to see how he is picking up pieces of his life so suddenly and completely shattered by one act of insanity. “I am angry with the people who did this to me. I want them hanged. But I can’t fault their religion for their act,” says Saxena.
Despite his world turning upside down, Saxena hasn’t changed as a man. Not the loss of his son, violence, communal rhetoric, misery, penury…nothing could change his steadfast belief in humanity. That’s the most uncommon feat of this common man who doesn’t want to be called a hero.
“Some people have been giving me negativity for organising an iftar. I have not changed my view about my own religion and also do not believe any religion is greater than another. It’s a belief and has nothing to do with what you are as a human being,” he says. Even after four months of battling with his circumstances and grieving for his son, 63-year-old Saxena was misty-eyed throughout a 50-minute chat.
His belief is also a reflection of the surroundings he has spent most of his life in. Raghubir Nagar in West Delhi is a microcosm of religious diversity. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have lived in this neighbourhood cheek by jowl for decades. Growing up together, their children strike friendships and sometimes love blossoms, and it’s mostly difficult for the parents to reconcile.
Saxena’s immediate neighbours are the family of Izhar, whose son, Azhar, was Ankit’s best friend. Even the family of the girl for whom Ankit paid with his life lived a few houses down the road some years ago. “Religion played a major role in their lives. They had hatred in their mind. They wanted to kill in the name of religion and they have admitted this in their statements,” he says.
He regrets that “they spewed so much hatred but never told us about it. They met us several times but didn’t tell us. Neither did our son. We have been asking him to get married and he said we could go ahead and look for a girl but he would have to agree. He said he was friendly with many girls.”
Would he have accepted a girl from another religion as his daughter-in-law? “We would have given it a thought. We would have, perhaps, gone and spoken to her parents. All parents should give a thought to their children’s choice. The choice of your child finally is supreme. I am sad that my son didn’t tell me.” That he puts down to Ankit’s sensitivity, perhaps his worry that his father with four stents in his heart may not be able to bear it. Or, perhaps, he was simply nervous.
Saxena recalls with some trepidation the days following Ankit’s murder with Hindu far-right groups landing up at his door, seeking common cause and revenge. “They held a candlelight protest. They are a national organisation. They put pressure on me to join them. I didn’t want that. I issued a statement that they can protest in the manner they wished but no one from my family would join them. I asked the children in the area to stay around me. Despite this there were provocations. They wanted to go to the mosque, a huge march was being held. The area ACP told us how they managed the situation.”
Saxena rues the pace at which the case is moving in court and is afraid that the killers may get away. “Is this a fasttrack court,” he asks. “Not a single hearing has happened so far.” But for former bureaucrat and activist Harsh Mander, even fighting the case would have been difficult, he says.
His immediate worry is just survival. With his head bowed and gaze fixed on the ground, he says: “I am ashamed that I have to take food from my neighbours. Izhar’s family helps us with this. We wake up every day and worry about whom to ask for food. Since I stopped working a few years ago, Ankit was the sole earning member of our family.”
But he looks up with a sparkle in his eyes to say that now he lives for his son. They have launched an NGO with the help of Ankit’s friends which will work for communal harmony. “My son wanted to be a star, and he was getting there. I want to fulfill his dreams.”