The family of a Hindu man from Telangana, who recently passed away, has refuted a report published in The Times of India which said that the deceased’s last rites were organised by Muslim men after neighbours “ostracised” the family.
The deceased, Venu Mudiraj, was 50 and was a resident of Khairatabad. He died on 16 April in a hospital.
The report, written by correspondent Preeti Biswas, was published in all major editions of the newspaper on 20 April. In its Hyderabad edition, it was published on the front page with the headline ‘5 Muslim men organise last rites of Hindu man shunned by neighbours’.
Here are two excerpts from the report,
Five Muslim friends carried out the last rites of an auto driver, a Hindu, who had died of tuberculosis but neighbours ostracised the family fearing it to be a Covid-19 death.
The children did not have money for the funeral and the neighbours kept away. Just when the crestfallen family was giving up hope, Salam along with Mohammad Majid, Abdul Muqtadir, Mohammad Ahmed and Shaik Khasim sought permission from cops and planned the final rites. They arranged food for the family members and a few relatives who joined the funeral.
The Family Refutes The Report And Plans A Legal Case
This correspondent received a call from a Hyderabad-based journalist, Sridharan Siddhu, on 21 April, who said that the family of the deceased, Venu Mudiraj, is facing “trauma” because of the “false” report. He said the family wants things to be clarified in the media.
This correspondent then spoke to the deceased’s younger brother Vinod.
The Times of India report had quoted Vinod as saying,
He was suffering from tuberculosis and during the lockdown period his condition deteriorated. But after his death, there was absolutely no one to take care of the children as their mom had died a few years ago.
Refuting the report, Vinod told this correspondent, “I never said it. It’s wrong. It’s totally false.”
Vinod, who is 48, then narrated his version of what happened (Swarajya has an audio recording of the entire conversation with him):
My brother died on 16 April around 5 pm. We brought his body home in some hours. Around 10 pm the same day, five Muslim men visited our house. One of them was Mohammad Ahmed, who was my brother’s friend. I didn’t recognise the rest. They expressed their condolences, they were all nice, and even gave us a few food packets before leaving.
The next morning, I saw all of them at the shamshan ghat. When men from our side picked up the bier, some of those men asked if they could help. Of course we said yes. I have no idea when pictures of them carrying the bier were clicked. In such a situation, one does not know what’s really happening around.
Vinod said the men again visited him the next day — that is, on 18 April — and made him talk to a press reporter over the phone.
“One of those men handed me his phone, and requested me to talk to the person on the line. He said the person is a journalist and the report could make the government offer us some monetary help,” said Vinod.
Vinod said he spoke to the journalist quickly, and got busy with relatives and rituals again.
Vinod said the family was shocked to learn about the report in the Times of India two days later.
“We have become a laughing stock in our community. People are mocking us, saying we don’t have four men to lift the bier and have to depend on another community. They are asking if my brother was a “lawaris” [orphan].
“That’s not true at all, ma’am. By god’s grace, we are a large family. It’s only because of this lockdown that we had to do with a gathering of 20 people,” he said.
Vinod further said that he spent Rs 35,000 from his savings and it really hurt him to see “five Muslims walk away with the credit despite doing nothing”.
It is pertinent to mention that when this correspondent called up Vinod and introduced herself as a journalist, he immediately asked in anger, “How dare you publish rubbish?”
It was only when explained that I was a different journalist that Vinod calmed down and narrated his version of the events.
The deceased’s 18-year-old son Sachin sent his video-recorded statement to this correspondent, where he is seen saying (as translated from Telugu),
Hello, my name is Sachin. My father G Venu died on 16 April. Initially, my basti people objected to our entry into the basti due to Covid-19. We then called the cops who convinced them, after which the basti people helped us in every way possible. Meanwhile, five Muslim men, claiming to be my father’s friends, came and sought permission to hold the bier for sometime. We don’t know them at all. But since they said they were my father’s friends, we allowed them to hold the bier. They then took photos and spread the news in newspapers and on social media that they performed the entire last rites. That’s not true. They didn’t do anything.
We lost our mother two years ago, and now our father. And now this fake news is causing further distress to us. My relatives are calling and asking us ‘Who are those five Muslims who helped you?’ This is deeply embarrassing. This is fake news and they are using my father’s death for mileage. My basti people have helped me, not the Muslims.
Over the phone, Sachin also said that his father died not because of tuberculosis, as reported, but because of “low BP”. “My father did not suffer from TB,” said Sachin.
Sachin also identified the men in the photograph published by the newspaper, as seen below.
“The men in front are my maternal uncles [mama]. The man behind them, in grey kurta and wearing goggles, is a Muslim, but I don’t recognise him,” said Sachin.
Sachin lost his mother two years ago. He, and his younger sister, will now stay with their chacha, Vinod, he said. The family is facing a financial crisis, he said.
Sachin also shared with this correspondent an audio recording, which he said was between “one of those Muslim men” and his maternal uncle Bharath after the publication of the report.
In the audio, Bharath is heard asking the man on the other side in anger who he was and what he got published in the newspaper. The man on the other side sounds defensive and says “it’s nothing”. Bharath then confronts him asking what help he did and if getting photographs clicked qualifies as help. The man admits he did not help.
Below is the transcript and translation of part of the audio:
This correspondent also reached out to TOI correspondent Preeti Biswas, asking for her comment now that the family has refuted her report.
Biswas replied through a text message, saying,
As per protocol, I had spoken to Mr Venu Mudiraj’s brother Mr G Vinod wherein he told me that the children had no support as they lost their mother two years back. On questioning about the five Muslim men helping them, he informed that they had indeed visited their house, arranged food for all the family members, sought police permissions and even spoke to the house owner who was wary of the situation. He also told me that these five men helped them move the body to the crematorium and stayed back till the funeral concluded.
Meanwhile, a family member of the deceased’s family, without wishing to be named, told this correspondent that they are looking to take legal action against “fake news” as it has harmed the family’s reputation.
“We have no money. But someone has approached us with help in the case. Let’s see,” the man said.
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