February, 2018: Armed paramilitary personnel and Delhi police commando units barricaded the narrow entry to Ankit Saxena’s house in Raghubir Nagar in West Delhi’s Khyala on Sunday. A news channel had barged into the house in the wee hours, leaving the aggrieved family distraught. Saxena’s father is in Haridwar for the last rites of his only child; his mother is admitted to a hospital after sustaining major injuries in the scuffle on Thursday evening that led to their son’s death.
Ankit Saxena’s uncle and others staying in the house had thus requested the cops to keep the media at bay.
Adjoining the lane is a park, where men and women were huddled in groups and discussed emerging details of the horrific crime that took place in the vicinity.
The accused family lived in this very colony two years ago before shifting to a flat across the road, some 500 metres away. “We didn’t interact with the family much. But they didn’t seem the kind of people who would kill,” said a woman.
All that the neighbours recall is that Akbar Ali, father of Saxena’s girlfriend, had a meat shop, his wife ran a beauty parlour and the family of five often complained about the lack of space in the house.
A group of young men introduce themselves as Ankit Saxena’s friends and school classmates. “Ankit was the most handsome of us all. And most ambitious and enterprising. Had he lived, he would have made it big,” said Ravi, without wanting to reveal his full name. He opened Saxena’s YouTube channel called Awaara Boy and admiringly showed a video featuring him as a singer. “He was into fitness, would go to the gym regularly and was very conscious of his looks,” Ravi said.
“He was also earning handsomely as a photographer, making over Rs 40,000 a month.”
He added, “Financially, Ankit’s family was better than the girl’s.”
Asked if he they knew of Ankit Saxena’s relationship, the friends said they did. For more than three years. “Ankit and and his girlfriend were neighbours before the latter’s family shifted. They were already seeing each other. I often asked Ankit if he was serious. Recently, he told me he was serious and planned to marry her.”
Ravi recalled that on Wednesday night, Ankit Saxena had met and told him that there was tension at the girl’s house. “Her brother had checked her phone…he had told the family…they scolded her…,” Ravi revealed in broken sentences. “Ankit was stressed about it.”
Families residing in the girl’s apartment told Swarajya that they too heard noises from the upper floor. “ The girl was screaming. Ali was screaming the loudest. But we could not make out what the fight was about,” said a neighbour, without wishing to be named.
On Thursday evening at the junction where Ali, his wife, his minor son and his brother-in-law caught hold of Ankit and eventually killed him, Ali repeatedly accused Ankit Saxena of “kidnapping” his daughter.
“There was no question of it. We saw the girl at home on Tuesday and Wednesday when we went to the terrace to put the clothes to dry,” the neighbour said.
One of Saxena’s friends said: “Akbar had to say something in front of the market to justify why he was thrashing Ankit. So he must have come up with this allegation.”
According to police, the girl had locked the family in the house and walked out around 7.50 pm on Thursday for the Tagore Garden metro station. She had asked Saxena to pick her up from there. However, her family had managed to get out. They dashed straight to Saxena’s house and angrily confronted him and his parents. Then they stormed out of the house to catch hold of Saxena again at the junction.
An eye-witness, who did not wish to be named, said, “Ankit had almost escaped them by rushing into a shop. But he went out again when he saw his mother being punched and kicked and abused.”
Moments later, Ali, who the eye-witness said was not involved in dealing physical blows, whipped out a knife and slit Saxena’s throat. Fading blood stains are still seen at the spot.
Akbar’s neighbours are still grappling with the thought that he hated someone enough to kill him.
They recall him as someone who would greet them with a namaste and not assalam walekum as Muslims normally do. “He would also accept the prasad gracefully if a puja had been held,” said one. “We would sometimes ask the family to send us a portion if they cooked biryani. His wife always obliged.”
But there was something the neighbours found unsettling. “Though here he worked as a driver, we knew Ali used to be a kasaayi (butcher). Every Eid, he would keep a goat for 10 days and slaughter it in his house. They also slaughtered chicken at the house regularly,” says one.
There is a reason why the neighbours, huddled in groups, are relating this detail to media persons teaming in the apartment. They feel that the way Ankit Saxena was murdered – “Akbar pulled his hair and sliced his throat in one swift move” – is to do with Akbar Ali’s “ease at killing”.
The neighbours say they knew nothing about the girl’s love affair but were left surprised when her mother shared with them the news of her daughter’s engagement a year ago. “We told her the girl was just 17, what’s the hurry. The girl’s mother said the match is a good one and they don’t want to let go of the opportunity,” said a woman.
The engagement, however, was called off, which Saxena’s friends say was because the girl protested.
Neighbours also talk about “several women” from the girl’s side of the family having married into Hindu families.
“We don’t think Akbar objected to any of these marriages. But maybe it’s different when one’s own daughter is involved,” says one.
Across the street not too far from Ali’s colony lives a cousin of the girl (daughter of one of her mother’s’s sisters). The cousin had married a Hindu some three years ago. The husband told Swarajya that while his wife visited Ali’s family every Eid and on special occasions, he never did.
“I was not wanted there. So,I kept a distance,” he murmured, before requesting to be left alone. “I have a little daughter. I am scared for my life,” he said.
He is one of the few extended families of the accused that continue to stay in the area.
The family of the girl’s cousin who lived in the neighbourhood has packed up and left for an indefinite period. Neighbours say they were asked to do so by the police. The beauty parlour run by the family is locked. Akbar wife’s salon has been ransacked by unruly Bajrang Dal members. The girl’s parents and her uncle have been arrested and sent to 14 days judicial custody. Her minor brother has beensent to a juvenile home.
The girl, who repeatedly told camerapersons on Friday that she fears for her life from her own parents, reportedly did not leave Khayala police station for two days. Her parents are behind bars and the extended family has refused to take her in. The girl had nowhere to go. She was produced before the Child Welfare Committee and has been sent to Nari Niketan.
The shocking incident has shattered many families and scarred the area forever.
One of Ankit Saxena’s friends breaks down as he watches another of his videos: “We kept on telling Ankit that he was playing with fire. He kept telling us he was hopelessly in love.”
Note: The report was first published on Swarajyamag.com.