"I knew Azam since we both were little children. We were cousins and we have so many memories together. We had gone on so many trips like this as well and always had so much fun. I never thought that this would be our last," mourns 21-year-old Noor Mohammed.
The death of his cousin is still fresh in Noor's mind, evident as he hesitates to say his name and shuffles uncomfortably every time it is mentioned.
Mohammed Azam, a 32-year-old techie who worked with Accenture in Hyderabad, was brutally lynched on Friday by residents of Murki village in Karnataka's Bidar district, who assumed that he was a child-lifter.
Noor was in the same car along with Mohammed Salman (20), Salham Al-Kiwaisi (36), a Qatari national and Afroz.
Sitting at Azam's house in Hyderabad's Bandlaguda area, Noor narrates what happened on the fateful day and how the entire incident played out. The grief at Azam’s house has turned to anger.
"“Yesterday, I didn’t want to speak to anyone because I was grieving, but today I’m seething with anger. I’m demanding justice and I want those who brutally killed my son to face the same fate as him,” " - Mohammed Azam’s mother
"We are poor people and we largely depended on him for our livelihood. He was a dutiful son and he had even recently just bought a new phone for himself. The police took it away as evidence. His wife and child have also been crying with no breaks," another relative explains.
"Salham's mother was an Indian citizen from Hyderabad, who moved to Qatar after her marriage. He was born there and was a Qatari national. Ever since he came to Hyderabad a few days before the incident, he had asked me where we could get freshly-extracted honey," Noor narrates.
Noor then contacted his friend Afroz, a Bidar native, who had been working in Hyderabad for the last few years.
"Me, Salham and Salman had even gone on a few trips leading up to the final one. We visited Sri Sailam, Jalpally and other such areas in the same car, which belonged to a friend," Noor said.
"Afroz then said that we could get some honey from near his native village and we planned the trip accordingly," he added.
At 9 am on Friday, July 13, the five people set off to Karnataka after breakfast and crossed Sangareddy, before heading to Aurad via Bidar.
However, they could not get the honey, as it was not available during the monsoon season.
"From there, we went to the house of Afroz's relative in Bootakula village by around 2 pm. As we were hungry, we gave them Rs 1,000 and asked them to make something nice while we went out for a drive and came," Noor says.
It was here, that the victims made the grave 'mistake'.
"“Salham had brought lots of chocolates to distribute to children and he rolled down the window and tossed a few chocolates at some children as we were passing by. Someone saw it, and mistook us for child kidnappers,”" - Noor Mohammed
By around 4 pm, the victims visited a nearby lake and were clicking pictures, while they saw a few locals attempting to puncture their car, which was parked at a distance.
"“We immediately began telling them that they are mistaken and we are not what they think. They didn’t listen to reason and the crowd kept growing. More than 50 people had gathered and they were armed with stones, sticks and even sickles. Many were shouting that we must be killed,”" - Noor Mohammed‘It Happened Within Minutes’
Noor shudders as he recollects what followed, as he says that everything took place in a matter of minutes.
“Seeing that the people would damage the car, Salman, Azam and Salham managed to get into the car and lock the door. Me and Afroz were trying to pacify the locals. Even though some of them listened, it was too chaotic to reason with them. They pulled me by the collar and started beating me," Noor says.
At this point, the three occupants of the car managed to start the vehicle and zoom away.
"By this time, Afroz's relatives had also rushed to the spot and attempted to pacify the crowd. Seeing that I was bleeding, they put me on a bike and said that they were taking me to a hospital, but we rushed to his relative's house and hid over there from the mob. It was dark by now," Noor says.
" “Afroz went on a bike ahead to check what had happened to the others but returned quickly after he saw a huge mob. He was shocked. We both then moved to another of his relative’s house and they locked us in a room to keep us safe. We were there till past midnight, when the police came and rescued us,”" - Noor Mohammed
Noor says that the police then took them to the hospital for first aid, before providing them lodging at the police station, where they also took their statements.
By this time, the police had also identified some of the people in the mob and taken them into custody.
Just a few kilometres away at Shaheen Nagar in Hyderabad, Salman and Salham were staying put at a house Habeeb Colony.
Both of them were badly bruised and had several stitches. While Salman consented to be photographed, Salham refused, stating that he had strict orders from Embassy officials, as he was a Qatari national.
Narrating what occurred after the car zoomed away from the location near the lake, Salman says, "The locals at Murki were waiting for us, as they had blocked the road with branches. Since the window glass were already broken and we were trying to escape, the car spun out of control and overturned on its side.”
"The assault immediately began as we were hit with stones and sticks. They first put a rope and dragged Azam out by the neck. It was clear that they were there to kill us. They couldn’t drag Salham out as he resisted and they started hitting him from outside. They dragged me out, but I crawled back into the vehicle from the rear window and crouched for my life." - Mohammed Salman
"Azam begged for his life and kept appealing to them but they didn't listen," he recalls.
Salman says he can't remember what transpired for a while after that, as locals continued to pound on the car, while also injuring him grievously.
"Next thing I know, the police pulled me out and took me to the government hospital at Bidar. My family then came and brought me and Salham back to Hyderabad on Saturday morning. I was only semi-conscious through the whole ordeal," Salman says.
"My father drives an auto and Salman works in an motor repair shop. They both make Rs 300 to Rs 350 a day, if they go to work. We had to mortgage a lot of possessions and even sell a relative's car, to pay for their treatment in Hyderabad. The Telangana government has not offered us any help so far," says Akbar, Salman's elder brother.
Salham is planning to return to Qatar and take up the case legally.
" “I thought that I would be killed as I was alone and hiding in that house. I thought that Azam and the others had escaped. Life won’t be the same again,” " - Noor Mohammed
Noor also says that they were all aware about the fake news spreading through WhatsApp, but they never, for a moment, thought that they would be at the receiving end.
(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)
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