Mahesh Verma*, 80, has been struggling with anxiety for the last two days. Ever since his 17-year-old grandson left their home in Jewar on Thursday morning — and later splashed across media outlets for firing a gun near Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University — life has taken an unexpected turn for the family.
“It’s unsettling for us to think about what he [his grandson] did,” Verma said, sitting on a plastic chair in the tiny drawing room of his house. “I fail to understand what was going on in his mind.”
Verma was the only person at home when the boy went out on the morning of January 30. The rest of the family had already left for a relative’s wedding at Kallupara, a village about 12 kilometres from Jewar.
Anand Verma*, the boy’s father, came back home on Friday morning with his wife and younger son. He runs a small paan shop next to their house and his wife teaches in a local private school.
The father was equally stunned. “How did he manage a gun and head all the way to Delhi?” he asked. “How could he fire at someone? My younger son, who is in Class 8, is terrified by the incident.”
The boy shot at a group of students protesting the citizenship law on the road outside the university. Shahdab Farooq, a first-year student of the university, suffered an injury on his hand.
The boy was sent to 14 day' protective custody by a Delhi court yesterday. NDTV quoted sources from the Delhi police as saying the boy has "no remorse for his actions".
The state of shock envelopes the boy’s home, his school, and his neighbourhood.
“He joined my school in 2013 and we have always known him as a polite and well-behaved boy. He’s never picked a fight or done any unruly thing in all these years,” said Narender Sharma, the manager of Jewar Public School who also teaches physics there. The boy finished his matriculation from the school and currently attends free coaching there ahead of his Class 12 Board examinations.
Narender Sharma, the manager of Jewar Public School.
A neighbour, Pappu, agreed. “He never showed any aggression or a hot temperament,” he told Newslaundry. “Someone must have influenced him under our eyes, [so] that he ended up doing such a shocking thing.”
Despite being taken by surprise by the Jamia shooting, a few neighbours did mention a recent change in the boy’s persona. According to a neighbour who also owns an electrical shop in front of the Verma house, the boy had become preoccupied in the last couple of weeks.
“At times, he would get irritated if someone asked him something,” he said. “Perhaps he was occupied with some constant thought and did not wish to be disturbed.”
Speaking to Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity, one of the boy’s friends corroborated the neighbour’s observation. “For the last 15-odd days, he seemed a little engaged with something,” the friend said. “Whenever we asked him about it, he would just say, ‘kuch bada hoga, something big will happen’.”
He added that the boy’s friends are clueless as to how he got hold of a gun.
Soon after the shooting, a number of photos and posts from the shooter’s Facebook account were widely circulated on social media platforms. Moments before shooting at the protesters, he had gone live on Facebook as well.
A number of other posts and live videos on his wall, as in the media, reflected his anger at the ongoing protests in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, which is near Jamia Nagar, where the firing took place. For example, one of the posts published on Thursday said: “Shaheen Bagh khel khatam.” Shaheen Bagh, game over.
Earlier posts on Facebook showed him wielding guns and swords. Since these social media posts became viral, many alleged his link with Deepak Sharma from Meerut, a leader of the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the far-right Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The shooter’s Facebook profile photo is of him with Deepak Sharma.
Newslaundry contacted Deepak Sharma and asked him about his association with the Jamia shooter. Sharma said the photo was probably taken when he visited the family of a two-year-old rape victim at Tappal.
"This boy was from a neighbouring area. So, he was also there,” Sharma added. “I met him in 2019 and what I realised then was that the boy was slightly mentally unstable.”
Sharma may have refuted his association with the shooter, but several older Facebook posts published by the boy showed his close involvement in the activities of the Bajrang Dal in Jewar.
The boy was seen in a Bajrang Dal protest led by Deepak Sharma in November 2019 at the Kotwali in Jewar. The activists gheraoed the Kotwali, according to , over idols being broken at a temple in the area.
A post from March 25, 2018 had three pictures from a Bajrang Dal meeting in the area, where the boy is seen sitting with other youngsters.
Five days later, on March 30, 2018, he uploaded two posts about a Bajrang Dal rally in Jewar.
The Facebook post dated March 25, 2018.
The first Facebook post dated March 30, 2018.
The second Facebook post dated March 30, 2018.
Apart from Bajrang Dal, the boy in the past also appeared to be associated with some other organisations of a similar ideology. One of the persons he seemed to closely follow on Facebook was Updesh Rana who, according to , runs the Updesh Rana Youth Brigade and is also the national secretary of a forum called the Vishwa Sanatan Sangh.
There are a number of groups on Facebook in Rana’s name which have more than 1.25 lakh followers in total. The shooter in his posts had written that if he had even half the followers of Rana, he would have turned Shaheen Bagh into “Jallianwala Bagh”, the newspaper reported.
However, Rana, like Deepak Sharma, denied any association with the boy. Rana told Express: “He may have met me and taken pictures like others, as I have lakhs of followers. He used to message me as well, but I don’t think I ever responded. I am still not sure why he used my name.”
According to the neighbour who runs the electrical shop, the Verma family used to have a connection with politics when Anand Verma’s elder brother, Abhishek Verma*, was associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“He was the Meerut Mandal president of the party. But that was almost two decades back as he died of cancer in 2002,” the neighbour said. “In my knowledge, the family has not been involved with any organisation after that.”
Anand Verma admitted it was possible that his son had been in touch with some organisation and leaders without the family’s knowledge.
“Our sons leave for school in the morning and we get busy with our own work after that,” he added. “But if he could lie to us about going to school and instead head to Delhi on Thursday, he may have gone here and there earlier to meet someone.”
*Names changed to protect the identity of the shooter, who is reportedly a minor.