I reported about the Khyala triple murder case when it happened in January 2019. A video of the actual murder – of maniacal stabbing and blood and screams – had gone viral on social media. It’s one of the most horrific crime videos I have seen. And I have seen many.
I am copy-pasting the first four paragraphs of my report for a quick recap of the case:
“In a residential colony in west Delhi, a man brutally stabbed three members of a neighbouring family in full public view on Wednesday evening (January 16).
Veerpal (41), wife Sunita (35) and the couple’s 18-year-old son Aakash have succumbed to the injuries. The couple is survived by three children; one of them — 20-year-old Khushbu — got married six months ago while the other two are still minors.
The killer, a father of two, has been arrested by the police.
Neighbours say they found out his name, Mohammad Azad, only through the media. They do not know the name of Azad’s wife either. “We had nothing to do with them. We don’t even know what they did for a living,” said a resident, requesting not to be named.”
It was while covering the case that I met Arjun Singh – one of the mamas (maternal uncles) of the surviving children. He had come from Agra. I learnt that he was the only relative living out of Delhi who had come to the city to be with what remained of the family.
I remember that a man – a Gupta whose first name I don’t remember and who, hesitatingly, introduced himself as a Swayamsewak – raised around Rs 55000 from the local market and gave it to Arjun. Contributors to this fund included members of a caste group. It was a revelation to me that a little-known sub-caste has its own outfit. The head of the outfit told me it was a Delhi-based ‘sangathan’. When I, while taking notes, requested the man to spell out the caste, he looked offended and dropped a few names who he said were famous and were from that caste. I have forgotten the names, and can’t find the notes.
That time, Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee President Manjinder Singh Sirsa publicised the minor children’s newly opened bank accounts on Twitter and appealed to donate.
A few days later, I was relieved to know that more than Rs 15 lakh had been put into those accounts.
In May, I wrote a report titled ‘Fear Of The Butcher’s Knife In New Delhi’ for which I went to the same Khyala colony again. I learnt that of the three surviving children, the eldest – Khushboo, who was married – had died the previous week during childbirth. The neighbours said they did not have any contact from the family. I did not have Gupta’s number either. I wrote whatever the neighbours told me.
In August, I got a call from Arjun. He said he had taken my number from Gupta. He said that of all the reporters, he somehow felt he could reach me.
Arjun is very hesitant in asking for help – something I have learnt after talking to him several times. He kept talking about the children, the police case, his own family, and his village. After a while, I told him he must be clear in what he is saying and say it without fear. He said that although people think that the family got lakhs after the murders, it wasn’t true. “The money went in the bank accounts of the children. Nobody can use it. The children can’t use it before they turn 18, either. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t intend to take even a penny…”
I had to struggle to coax it out of him that he needed money to be able to travel to Delhi to see the children and attend court hearings.
He said he had attended four or five hearings since the crime and, each time, he makes it a point to meet the children who stay in a Don Bosco residential school where the Delhi government got them admitted. When I insisted he must not be vague about how much money he wants, he said around Rs 2,500. “Didi, I have to pay the train fare and hotel fare, and take something for the children. I also lose out on the dehaadi,” he said.
“That’s all? Give me your account number. I will transfer it right away. But you must meet the kids,” I said.
I told him I will pay the fare for the next few visits as well. Once, in January, he asked for some more money. However, as usual, he was very hesitant and vague, and so I transferred Rs 5,000.
Just as lockdown began, I received a Whatsapp message from him. It was screenshot of a hand-written letter. I routinely receive screenshots of hand-written letters by family members of atrocity victims, but those are typically addressed to their local police station in-charge or district police chief and contain details of the cases, requesting “harshest punishment”.
Arjun’s letter was different, and very moving. It said that he was in such a crisis this time that he did not have money to even call me. He asked for some money, and wrote that if I would help him this time, I may treat it as “bheek”. The message made me very sad, but I was glad he had mentioned the amount clearly – Rs 8000. I transferred the money the same night.
He called me after three-four days, and said he had been too hesitant to call. “I call you sister but all I do is ask money from you,” he said. I told him he should not think this way and not use words like “bheek” ever again.
When he called, I happened to be too busy and too exhausted to even accept thanks. I winded up the call soon, and realised that I had forgotten to ask how he was doing.
I later left him a text message – “sab theek, Arjun ji”?
In reply, he sent me a picture of his daughter who looked terribly sick. I called him up the next day, asking what had happened. He said she was constantly fainting, but he was unable to take her to doctors because of lockdown. I asked him if I could put out an appeal on Twitter tagging police. He said no, but I could help him with the police helpline number. I googled and told him it was 1076. Two days later, he said his daughter was better, but his wife was very ill. He texted me saying it was not a request for money. I left it at that.
There was little communication with him until the beginning of May when he called me, sobbing and asking me if I could get him a job. Arjun is a daily wager. He said he does “palledaari”. It’s a Hindi word, but I don’t know exactly what it means. In terms of earning, it’s like a daily-wager job.
This time, I told him to tell me all his problems clearly, and how much money he really needs to be able to have a more peaceful life. He did not talk about money at all. Instead, he sent me pictures of a lump that he said doctors had taken out of his wife’s chest through surgery, and pictures of his very thin daughter. He said he had sold his wife’s jewellery to pay for her surgery, and that another surgery is due. He told me that because of an old “dushmani” between his family and another family in his native village near Agra, he has been unable to go to his village for 10 years and is doomed to live a poor migrant’s life in a city (Agra).
When people talk about their village, they describe it as a place that won’t let them go hungry, and where neighbours collectively share a problem. I don’t know how true is that, but that’s how people talk about their paternal villages.
I had to really push him to give me a figure. I told him that this could be the last time I was helping him, and he must tell me how much he needs to settle down. He began sobbing loudly, and told me it was around 1.25 lakh. “Sava laakh”. Though he said it like it was an impossible figure, I said “I will try”, and that for the time being, he should make do with Rs 10000 that I would send him in some minutes.
Just then, I had a fleeting thought that I could be spoiling him.
So I told him whatever came to my mind – “This money wouldn’t exactly be a loan, but you may be required to do some work for us for free in coming months. You must promise to educate your daughter properly, in which we would help you. You must promise you won’t drink (he protested saying he doesn’t drink at all)…”
At this point, I also felt a little mean for expecting too much for a small help. I stopped.
He profusely thanked me and said he agreed to any and every condition.
I set up the fundraiser for him – my first such campaign – on 13 May. The same day, with generous help from kind donors, Rs 1.5 lakh was raised.
Arjun should get the amount in two-three days. I doubt he is expecting this amount despite my promise of “I will try”. You can however imagine what it would mean to him.
Thank you, dear donors.