Ever wondered what is it like to be a Muslim in the undeclared Hindu state that is India? To be constantly humiliated, demeaned, and brutalized? To have your soul destroyed by the state? And sometimes, your home, too?
From our faith and history to our eating habits and clothes, the Hindu supremacists ruling India today have spared nothing in their campaign against our community. During the eight years of Narendra Modi’s government, they have taken a sledgehammer to our country’s secular foundations by routinely finding ever newer ways of targeting us. Last month they brought a bulldozer to my home.
In late May, a national spokeswoman of Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad on live TV. Muslims in India, and far beyond, were outraged. Shortly afterward, on June 10, Muslims in some parts of India held protests after Friday prayers. One such protest was held in my city, Prayagraj (erstwhile Allahabad), snowballing into violence. A swift police crackdown followed, leading to arbitrary arrests and detentions of Muslims across the city.
My family found itself at the receiving end of brutal state power with the arbitrary and illegal de-tention of my father, a community leader and rights activist. Police picked up my mother and sister from our home in the middle of the night without an arrest warrant and made them sit at a police station for more than 35 hours, in violation of all rules of detention.
The city authorities and police then forced the family out of the house—by threatening my mother and sister with torture and formal charges if we didn’t—and slapped a backdated notice on our gate on the night of June 11, claiming the building was an illegal construction and would be demolished the next day. The house was suddenly labelled “illegal” even after we have always paid all relevant taxes and have all our property documents in order. The trigger for this government action was ostensibly a complaint by three “respected people” of the neighborhood, who, incidentally, none of the neighbors can identify.
Our home thus became part of the now-familiar pattern of what has come to be known as “bulldozer justice” in India. This is how it works: the govern-ment links Muslims to grievous “crimes” such as participating in protests, then blames them for vio-lence, and destroy their homes. Earlier this year, during a Hindu festival, sword-wielding Hindu mili-tants marched into Muslim neighborhoods in many cities, sometimes belting out obscenities over loud-speakers in front of mosques during the Ramadan, before launching targeted attacks on Muslim homes and businesses. Then too, police blamed Muslims for the unrest, arrested hundreds of innocent Muslims, including minors, and razed their houses with bulldozers. There’s, of course, no legal provision for such demolition of private property, even if indi-viduals are indeed found to have been involved in violent acts. But it doesn’t matter; the whole idea is to demonstrate that Muslims have no legal protection in a Hindu state. We are not equal citizens.
My father has been in jail—and on TV—ever since our own home was demolished. Our faces plastered on prime-time debates, anchors have been spinning stories about our life and activism, peddling conspiracy theories, calling us “anti-nationals” and “jihadis”. I have been receiving death and rape threats. Now that everybody knows what I look like, I’m afraid of stepping out in public. I live like a prisoner.
There’s no arrest warrant against me; there’s no need for those things anymore. Most of my fellow Muslim student activists who are in jail were arrested without any due procedure or paperwork. Sometimes when they go missing, their parents don’t even know whether they have been arrested or kidnapped by Hindu extremists—the line between the two is blurring quickly, anyway. I have imprisoned myself because as a young Muslim woman in India—where ultra-right Hindus auction us online—I have to ensure my own and my family’s safety, online and offline, mental and physical. This is what freedom for me looks like in the “world’s largest democracy”. And, I am forced to live like this for no apparent reason other than being a Muslim. Worse, an outspoken Muslim.
India’s descent into lawlessness How did India get here? How did I? How did my family find itself in the vortex of India’s rapid descent into this lawless pit of majoritarianism?
I had a fairly middle-class upbringing. My father, my Abbu, was a businessman and an activist. De-spite their limited budget, Abbu and Ammi, my mother, sent me and my four siblings to the best school in the city and raised us as fiercely independ-ent, god-fearing, socially responsible and civic-minded citizens. They shouldn’t have. Those are not the qualities Hindu supremacists appreciate in a people who they believe are not worthy of the equal citizenship guaranteed by our inclusive constitution. We are not meant to assert our religious identity. We are called “radical”, or “jihadi”, if we do. We are not meant to be seen or heard, because for them, our very existence is a crime.
[Afreen Fatima is a Muslim student activist in India.]