Transcript of the interview given by student activist Afreen Fatima to Maktoob Media on June 16. Fatima’s house was demolished by Prayagraj (Allahabad) authorities on June 12 as part of the government’s clampdown against protestors alleged to have stoked the violence in the city on June 10. As per the authorities, Fatima’s father Javed Mohammad, a Muslim activist and Welfare Party of India leader from Prayagraj, is the ‘mastermind’ behind the violence. He was arrested along with 60 others in connection with the violence on June 10, which saw stone pelting, the torching of vehicles and a subsequent lathi charge by the police.
Transcribed by Muhammad Nihad PV | TwoCircles.net
Everyone is talking about how my father was in touch with the administration and he would work with them a lot. And that is true. But at the same time, I think there was some sense of hostility towards him, which goes unnoticed and people often shrug it off and say that it’s nothing. I think that hostility has translated into this incarceration. He was one of the people who were active during the anti-CAA protests in Allahabad. Apart from that, I can think of a specific incident. There was a Dharam Sansad (religious congregation) organised in Allahabad (now Prayagraj) and my father was the only person who tried to file a complaint against it in the relevant police station. Although the complaint was never registered, he took it up with every official of the administration to get it registered. I think that is something that made him a part of the hit list.
He is not just concerned about the Qabristan (graveyard), the slaughterhouse or other social works. He is also concerned about the safety of his community. He recognized that there was rising intolerance in the town. He was trying to address it in the ways he thought he could. I think that is what irked the administration the most because he just didn’t only give speeches or write long posts saying that it is wrong. He tried to do something about it by filing complaints or petitions.
My father has been a part of several peace committees that the police made to ensure that there is peace and stability in the city. Ever since the last Friday of Ramadan, the police would always be super active a day before Friday, i.e. on Thursday. They would call people and warn them. Especially before the tenth of June, the police had been in touch with my father. He usually talks to people in front of us without any hesitation. He doesn’t go to a different room to talk to someone. We could hear that the police were constantly asking him if there was something that was going to happen on Friday. He said that he had no information about what they were talking about. There was no call from Jamaat that My father is a part of. Neither any Muslim organisation nor the Shahi Imam called for a protest. But the administration was adamant that something was going to happen on Friday. And in fact, they even suggested to my father in a very intimidating way that if something does happen, ‘you will be held accountable’. My father politely replied that he didn’t know what was going to happen.
Listening to the conversation we could sense that he was being targeted. We were getting to know that someone in our family is not in the good books of the state anymore. We had this sense that My father might be incriminated in something or the other. I mean, earlier there were incidents of that kind, when the CAA protests were happening, the police filed a fake complaint against him saying that he stole a tree from the graveyard just to harass him. We were expecting something but not to the extent of calling him a ‘mastermind’. We knew that they would do something even before the protests happened and he might even be picked up for something. We did not expect the police action to be this fabricated, this violent, this humiliating. The way things are now in India. We can expect way worse than this. Initially, we did not expect that they would target our house or they would detain Ammi and Sumayya (my younger sister).
We were not expecting all of this, especially because my father had a very clean record and everyone in the town knew him. His entire life has been an open book. In that sense, we thought that it would be difficult for them to fabricate cases against him. Also, as you know, of course, the house is not under his name, which means it’s primarily not his house. We didn’t really expect this. But at the same time, as a family, we also knew that it has less to do with what we were expecting and more to do with what they planned and what has happened. In any way, we are not going to let it break us.
To be quite honest, I didn’t really like my house, in the sense that I did not like the architecture of my house. Several times, I had told my father that we should make some changes. But it’s not about the building, right? It’s not about the structure. It’s about the people living in it. It’s about how we spend our lives in it. My father made that house with a lot of love. My father always used to do more than what he could afford. Even the police were saying that our house was worth five crores. I don’t know if that’s true, but he had always wanted the best of the furniture, beds, floorings, lights, switchboards and everything in the house. He would carefully pick everything. I imagine what he would think when he comes to know that everything that he had handpicked is no more. We also had a massive library with lots of books.
My youngest sister was born in that house and it was almost as old as my younger sister. It was like a space where we could be ourselves, where we could have a lot of fun with each other and we could fight with each other. My mother is very fond of plants. When they were demolishing the house, you might have seen lots of plants crumbling down. I think we had more than 500 pots of plants in our house. I imagine that the plants might have cursed them and it gives me relief. It was bizarre and I felt a lot of shame when our pictures and personal belongings were displayed on cameras. Those were personal objects and each object in the house has a massive story behind it. Our mother used to say that our home was a “kabaadkhaana” (junkyard). As a family, we found it hard to let go of things. There is a broken cycle that my brother used to ride when he was a kid. Till date, we have kept that in the house. We had this large box of wedding invitation cards collected by me and Sumayya thinking we would make some craft out of them and we would not let anyone throw them out. The first things we moved from the house were the copies of the Qur’an and the Islamic books that we had. We wanted them to be safe because when they demolish the house we did not want the copies of the Qur’an to be affected at all. We had a lot of Qur’an copies. Apart from that, I or even my sister-in-law, all the relatives who had come to the house, none of us were trying to save things. It was just a weird feeling of choosing what to save and what not to save. Everything, including even the structure, felt like it needed to be saved. As I have said earlier, we as a family always struggled to let go of even physical objects. Now, we have let go of the biggest physical object that was associated with our lives, and we are fine!
Our first priority is to get my father out and establish the fact that he is being unjustly incriminated with fabricated charges. We are legally moving forward with that. There are also these “father-daughter duo” stories doing rounds in which I plot things in my father’s head and ask him to do them. To a certain extent, it’s quite refreshing for me to see people think that way. It’s contrary to the general media perception about Muslim fathers that they shut their daughters down without listening to them and keep them caged in the house. My father and I used to have a lot of discussions and we differed from each other. Our arguments would always end up saying let’s agree to disagree. Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God), he never stopped me from anything. He just told me what is right and what is wrong, and let me be myself. He trusted me enough to let me do the things that I am doing now. We are two different individuals with different opinions. But he respected my views with so much grace. I have seen a lot of elders, among the activist circles, who would just patronise me saying I am too young to have this conversation with them. But my father never did that. He would have all sorts of conversations with me even though he might disagree with what I have to say. About the conspiracy allegation, I don’t think my father and I could ever plot the same conspiracy. My plan would be very different from what he might plan. Among the stories they have fabricated, there is not even a single thing that is true as of now.
In some of the reports, even his name has been written wrong as Javed Ahmed whereas his actual name is Javed Mohammed. It is fabricated to the extent that they cannot even get his name right. I have come across some headlines of right-wing media reports like “Nafrat ka pump pe bulldozer bhaari.” Basically, my father’s business was that of submersible pumps and he has got a lot of borings done in the city. People would save his contact as “Javed Pump,” just like many people might have saved my name as “Afreen JNU,” “Afreen Delhi” or “Afreen AMU”. That’s how the name came. Even on the true caller, it says “Javed Pump” when you search my father’s contact number. We always used to ask him to download the app and change the name. Now, it has become some cool gangster name. Although I am laughing it off, it’s absolutely bizarre and disturbing that anything can be used to dehumanise us. His business has become a punch line and people are writing sensational headlines using it.
This is not just happening to my family, there are a lot of others as well across India. Also, it is not just happening in UP, but in states even with so-called secular-progressive governments. People are being martyred. I think that is the price that the Muslim community is paying for nothing. These are reactions where there are no actions in the first place. The current situation in India is in fact defying the laws of physics which state that you need to do something and then you will have to face the reaction or you will be punished. Also, the nature of the “reaction” is not proportionate; it would be a massive blow from the state. As Muslims, we don’t have to do anything. Even if there were no protests in Allahabad, I am quite sure my father would have been incriminated for one reason or another. Given the fact that he is someone who was acknowledging the rising intolerance in Allahabad city, especially at Dharam Sansads where genocidal calls were made. This punishment or this idea of deriving pleasure by punishing Muslims is very prevalent right now. For Hindu supremacists, it is a fetish to see Muslim houses crumbling, and Muslims going to jail, and Muslims getting demonised and dehumanised on national television daily. That is their idea of fun. I think we are not willing to give that to them. We are not going to shed a single tear. As far as the entire Muslim community is concerned, we are strong and we will survive whatever will come. Islamic history shows that we have survived situations way worse than this.
Muhammad Nihad PV is a sociology student at the University of Hyderabad. He tweets at @nihadbinnisar