Monday, 30th October 2017

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Air force treads where PM won't

Chief offers safety of air station to Akhlaque's family

By SUJAN DUTTA AND IMRAN AHMED SIDDIQUI
  • Published 4.10.15
  •  
Arup Raha

New Delhi, Oct. 3: The head of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, today said the family of a soldier whose father was lynched on Monday over the politics of food habits would be moved to an air force station after the "very unfortunate incident".

Without stepping into the political row ignited by the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaque and the thrashing of his younger son, the air force chief amplified how self-defeating for the country the conflict over such issues of eating or not eating meat and beef is.

"The safety and welfare of my men, the air warriors, are paramount. This is a very unfortunate incident. It is an unfortunate incident that a serving warrior's family, or whoever it might be, has been adversely affected," the air chief marshal said.

The air chief marshal said: "Everybody in the government has understood that this is unacceptable. Our senior officers are in touch with the air warrior."

Akhlaque, 52, was lynched in Uttar Pradesh's Bisara village and his younger son, Danish, thrashed by a mob on September 28 on the presumption that the family had beef at their home. A preliminary forensic examination has revealed that the meat found from the house was of goat and not beef.

The victim's elder son, Corporal Mohammad Sartaz, is an aircraft technician in the air force. The 27-year-old was based in the southern command area at the time of the lynching. He wanted to move his family out earlier but was concerned about the economic viability of the move.

Speaking from the hospital in Noida where his brother is in intensive care, Sartaz said: "I joined the Indian Air Force for the love of my country. But this is what I got in return - I lost the most important part of my life, my father."

In New Delhi, where he was addressing an annual media conference in the run-up to the 83rd Air Force Day (October 8), the air chief was asked what the incident meant for him when he lists the welfare of his men as one of his "key result areas". "We are trying to help the family to move to a safer place. Our senior officers have already reached the place," Raha said.

Asked if he would write to the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government over the matter, Raha said that was "superfluous" since the governments had expressed concern and because an investigation into the incident had already been ordered.

"Already the government has ordered a probe.... we do write letters to district collectors and state governments. We are looking into the matter and will do the needful. But right now, we are securing the family by moving them into a safer place, maybe to an air force area," he said.

There is an air force station at Dadri, the suburban town 45km from New Delhi, near Bisara, the village where Akhlaque was killed, his younger son thrashed and their house ransacked by a mob that was incited by an announcement over a temple loudspeaker.

Sartaz said his seniors in the armed force were in touch with him and helping him after the "biggest" tragedy of his life.

Speaking from Kailash Hospital where his younger brother is still in a delicate state after going through brain surgeries, he said: "They (his seniors) have been a pillar of support during these trying times and have provided all co-operation. Since the village is no longer safe for my family, they are also trying to shift them to a safer place. I am thankful to the force for this gesture."

Kailash Hospital is owned by the BJP member of Parliament for the area and minister for culture, Mahesh Sharma.

Asked where he wanted his family - grandmother, mother, younger brother and sister - to be shifted, Sartaz said: "Wherever they will be safe and can lead their life in peace.... They (IAF officers) are my superiors and know what is good for my family. I trust them and I know they will find a safe haven for my family."

Sartaz had joined the air force in 2008 and is posted in Chennai. His wife Azrah is a homemaker.

Senior IAF officers from the Dadri and Hindon air bases and from his unit in Chennai, along with doctors, have visited the hospital where his brother Danish is battling for life.

"They have been coming to the hospital and providing all the help. Some IAF doctors also visited the hospital and spoke to the doctors treating my brother. He is still on ventilator and has not spoken yet," Sartaz, who has been at the hospital since Tuesday, said.

Sartaz said he had never thought in his wildest dreams that his family would be subjected to such barbarism.

"I was born and brought up in the village and had several Hindu friends," he said. "I am shocked that nobody came to help my family, not even my neighbours."