THE word Khuram [commonly spelt Khurram] translates to ‘happy’; with Shazad [or Shahzad], the name means ‘happy prince’. This was a popular combination here in the 1980s and 1990s, with parents aspiring for a royal future for their sons. But this was also the period when religious militants started propagating that eternal happiness comes from dying for the faith.
Khuram Shazad Butt, one of the perpetrators of the recent London Bridge atrocities whose family was originally from Pakistan, seems to have been trapped somewhere in between.
His father, Saifullah Butt, a middling furniture trader in Jhelum, migrated to the United Kingdom in the early ’90s, when Khuram was only a toddler. There, he started working as a labourer in a fruit market, earning in pounds instead of rupees. He never considered returning to Pakistan, and died in London.
His son was, by all accounts, quite happy in London and enjoyed all the joys of life in the West. That is, until he was sucked into the propaganda and rhetoric of extremist forces. He came twice to the country of his birth — first in 2009 to attend his elder brother’s wedding and later in 2013 to meet his own in-laws. Neither of his trips lasted for more than a couple of weeks. However, perhaps because there were few concrete ties: a few years after migrating to the UK, Butt’s family sold their ancestral house in the Mujahidabad neighbourhood of Jhelum. Since then, ownership of the house has changed hands many times. Saifullah had just one sister whose entire family is also settled in the UK. Khuram’s elder brother and younger sister also live there with their extended families.
Even so, as soon as the news broke that Butt was born in this single-storey, old-fashioned house, media crews rushed to the locality and started working the phones to locate relatives back home.
A paved street by the District Headquarters Hospital in Jhelum city passes through the congested residential area and then turns into an unpaved, muddy path. This winds convolutedly through fields, eventually culminating in another street where a large number of modern houses have been built or are being built.
Among these stands the Butt family’s old house, constructed back in 1981 as inscribed on a pillar of the white-painted main gate. The words ‘Butt House’, also inscribed on the pillar, are still visible, despite several coats of paint in a variety of colours layered on over the years. The only tree here, a mulberry, has stretched its branches over the high wall and provides shade in the vast courtyard.
Despite several knocks at the gate by the flocks of media crews, though, the current inhabitants of the house never emerge. “This house has no relation with Saifullah Butt now,” says Sajjid Mehmood, a neighbour across the street. “No link to the guy who was involved in the terrorist attack in London a few days ago. It is now owned by a person from Mirpur and even he lives in a foreign country.” He explains that the people living here currently are merely the caretakers.
There may be no links to be found here, but elsewhere, the news has set off shock waves.
“We aren’t in any state of mind to say anything,” says Nasir Dar, Butt’s maternal uncle who owns a fancy restaurant on the main GT Road as it passes through Jhelum city. “We are totally shocked.”
Dar says that the news of Butt’s involvement in the terror attack and of his being killed by the police came as an emotional explosion for him and the family. “We never expected him to be a terrorist,” he says. “We thought he was a good boy who was leaving behind his London party life and becoming a good Muslim in the post-marriage period.”
As we talk, a dust storm hits the city and topples several trees and signboards. This is followed by a furious downpour.
Like Butt, thousands of other men and women from Jhelum and its surrounding districts have left their ancestral lands for foreign shores, rendering these areas forgotten entities. But when one of Jhelum’s children features in a terror attack, an ‘honour’ crime, or some other unlawful activity, these forgotten lands bear the brunt and distant relatives are left to face the frenzy.