In the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh adjoining holy city Haridwar, the haunting memory of a brutal knife attack that claimed lives of two women has lingered for eight years.
But for Salman Ansari, who narrowly escaped the same fate as his mother and step-sister, a semblance of closure finally arrived yesterday as the Sessions Court delivered its verdict.
Salman's first cousin, Mohammed Amjad, has been sentenced to death for the crime, marking the conclusion of a tragic family saga that drew not only local but also national attention.
Behind the heinous act was a murky backdrop of cultural and familial conflicts rooted in interfaith complexities.
A decade-and-a-half before the incident, Dharmawati Kashyap from Alipura village located in Najibabad area of Bijnor, had left her previous life — including her husband, Virendra Kashyap, and their three children — to marry Mohammed Mustakin.
In her new chapter, that started within the bounds of Alipura, she adopted Mustakin's faith, changed her name to Ayesha Begum, and started a family, giving birth to five children.
Salman, now 23, is the eldest of her five children with Mustakin — four sons and a daughter.
While Dharmawati started anew, her children from her first marriage — Rahul, Rajan and Puja — remained with their father. Puja, who was three when her mother abandoned her, was the youngest of the siblings.
When Puja grew up, she began visiting her mother. This is how she crossed paths with Amjad, who is son of Mustakin’s sister. Then 18, Amjad got fixated on Puja who was about the same age. Virendra hurriedly got Puja married to a man from his Hindu community. A year later, she bore a son.
Amjad, however, was far from discouraged. He started making unwelcome appearances at Puja's marital home and issuing threats.
Salman, then a teenager, was an eyewitness of this tumultuous period when Amjad was growing obsessed towards his married half-sister. He told Swarajya, “Amjad became infatuated with Puja. He would audaciously demand to marry her, threatening that if the family didn’t arrange for that, dire consequences would follow."
Ayesha, he recalls, helplessly watched her daughter's life disintegrate alongside her own, as her former husband blamed her for Puja’s ordeal. Salman recounts, “My mother would cry endlessly. Amjad was tearing apart both their lives.”
The gravity of those threats became harrowingly clear on 20 June 2015. A frenzied Amjad, wielding a machete, brutally attacked Puja and Ayesha in the midst of a crowded street. They died on the spot. Salman, too, faced the fury of Amjad's blade but escaped with a slight wound.
Though Amjad fled the spot, authorities arrested him within 24 hours. The attack left six children without a mother, including Puja’s son who was aged a year-and-a-half. Salman’s sister, the youngest of the siblings, was five that time.
Yesterday (3 October), the court of additional district and sessions judge in Bijnor, presided over by Judge Ram Avatar Yadav, sentenced Amjad, who is now 26, to death under IPC Section 302. An additional 10-year imprisonment under IPC Section 307 (attempt to murder) was imposed, alongside a financial penalty of Rs 1.25 lakh.
Salman told Swarajya that after the murders, Rajan and Rahul, along with their father and grandparents, shifted to Kotdwar in Uttarakhand. Virendra, however, passed away within a couple of years.
Mustakin continues to stay in Alipura. He never remarried, and Salman and his siblings were raised by their grandmother. She passed away a few years ago.
Salman, who was the complainant in the murders, now lives and works in Gujarat.
He recalls that Puja’s visits to her mother had begun to put an end to several years of hostility between Dharmawati and her three children from her previous marriage. Salman talks of them as "the Hindu side".
“The fragile hope did not last long. Amjad’s obsession destroyed everything,” he says.
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