"Saare Jahaan se Accha, Hindustan Hamara, Mazhab Nahin Sikhaata, Aapas Mein Bair Rakhna," said Sartaj on NDTV's "We the People" show. He had been asked what he would like to say to politicians who have been trooping into the Bisada village in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri since his father's horrific death.
Applauded repeatedly by the audience, Sartaj was a picture of strength and grace as he said: "I can't blame everyone...Most people are good...only a handful are bad."
Sartaj was at an airbase in Chennai, where he is posted, when his father Mohammad Akhlaq was beaten to death by a large crowd that included neighbours that the family had known for decades.
Admitting that he found it hard to accept what happened, he said: "I am in the Air Force and serve the country knowing that my family is looked after by our friends and neighbours in the village. As someone who has always been a nationalist, it is deeply painful to me that something like this happened. I never imagined that it ever could."
Many in the mob who stormed into their home in Dadri with bricks and lathis were neighbours - even friends - who suddenly transformed into killers on the rampage. "We always had a warm relationship with our neighbours...On Eid, we shared food and invited each other over. And suddenly something like this happens...I never thought it was possible.."
For their safety, the Akhlaqs have been moved from the village to a guest house of the Uttar Pradesh government in Delhi. Asked whether he and his family were being threatened, Sartaj said: "Because of some people, the atmosphere is being vitiated. I appeal to them for peace and communal harmony. It is not time for politics but for empathy."
Sartaj, who has been keeping a constant vigil by his brother Danish's bedside since the attack, also appealed to political parties not to indulge in petty politics over the murder of his father. "I am not asking them not to come and visit us. I am only saying if you do, please don't do 'siyasat'- leave your politics behind."
Asked about his reaction to inflammatory comments made by BJP lawmaker Sangeet Som who referred to his family as "cow killers", or the bizarre decision of the Uttar Pradesh government to send meat from his father's fridge for forensic testing, Sartaj maintained his composure. "I say again, I am appealing to all for harmony. This is not the time for politics. They (politicians) can come and share our grief, but they should not do politics. That's all I ask," said the 24-year-old.
He said he would leave it to his seniors in the Air Force to decide whether his family should stay on in the village or move out.
Finally, with folded hands, he said he had one request for every Indian watching the show - "Please pray for my brother Danish, pray that he gets well."
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