Muslim activist Afreen Fatima has said that the state bulldozed her house as an “act of vendetta” for the protests ensuing over Islamophobic comments made by a government official, Nupur Sharma. On Sunday, 12 June, city authorities brought a bulldozer to demolish Fatima’s house under the protection of a large police mob in riot gear. Videos of the demolition went viral on social media, leading to protests against the authorities.
The house was razed to the ground within hours, and personal belongings were dumped in an empty plot nearby. Social was also outraged over the incident, calling it a “resounding message” for all dissidents and critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Who is Afreen Fatima?
Afreen Fatima is a national secretary of the Fraternity Movement, the student wing of the Welfare Party of India run by her father. She was elected president of the Women’s College Students Union at the Aligarh Muslim University. She was also elected as a councillor in the students’ union of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where she finished her master’s in Linguistics.
Fatima was a face of the iconic anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) movement, where Muslim groups led protests to demand the cancellation of the controversial citizenship law. Critics argued that the law violated the secular constitution of India by making Muslims second-class citizens.
Fatima is associated with many other movements, including the Hijab row.
Authorities Justify the Demolition of House
Afreen Fatima said that the police captured his father, Mohammad Javed, without a warrant and did not specify whether he was being detained or arrested. He was charged with being a “mastermind” of the protests in the region. Suddenly Indian media showed his picture with a “mastermind” tag on all TV screens in the country.
The police said they did not find any incriminating evidence against Fatima but accused Javed of staging a protest in the region on 10 June, which went violent. Javed is a political activist and businessman. Police claimed they found weapons, cartridges and “objectionable” posters from his house. Fatima’s sister dismissed the police claim as fabricated and said that police probably did that themselves to “frame us”.
Development Authorities also claimed that the house was built illegally, and they sent Fatima’s family a notice on 10 June, but they ignored it. Fatima argued why the authorities realized the house was illegal just now, when they had been paying taxes for the last 20 years. They could have objected anytime, but they only did it after Muslim protests against the extremist Indian government became strong. Moreover, Fatima also revealed that her house belonged to her mother and not her father, as the authorities claimed.
Protests against Illegal Demolition
Many have stood in support of Afreen Fatima all over India. They staged protests highlighting how Hindu extremists have made life hell for Indian Muslims. Demonstrators called it a “Buldozer Raj” of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, known for his extremist take on Muslims. Bulldozer has become a symbol of collective punishment for Muslims whenever they raise their voice against the majoritarian politics of the government. Fatima said that the demolition of her house was also part of Hindu nationalist policies which prevent Muslims from exercising their democratic rights.
The Indian government has demolished several houses of people it accused of demonstrating after Sharma’s derogatory remakes against the Islamic Prophet. Clashes have been erupting between protestors and the police across the country. According to reports, more than 300 people allegedly linked to the protests have been arrested.
India issued a formal apology for the politician’s comments after backlash by influential Muslim countries. It also suspended Sharma (with pay), but Muslim protestors felt it was not enough, so they took to the streets to demand her arrest.