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'My Father Is Being Punished for Raising Children Who Question': Afreen Fatima

Afreen Fatima's father Javed Mohammad was arrested one year ago, followed by the demolition of their home.

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The last one year of student activist Afreen Fatima’s life has been marked by countless court visits. Some to prove that her home, where she had lived for over two decades of her life and was demolished by authorities last year, was not in fact, illegal. And others to prove that her father isn’t a “key conspirator” in the violence that broke out in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj last year during the protests against suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s remarks about Prophet Muhammad.

“It has been difficult, I won’t lie. We not only lost our house but we also don’t have our father with us. He has been the strongest pillar of the family, especially for me,” says Afreen. “He has always supported me in ways that I never realised when he was around. But his unjust incarceration has made me realise just how much of a support he was for me. But as a family we believe we will brave whatever is thrown at us,” she adds.

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On 10 June 2022, hours after the Friday violence, Javed Mohammad, her father, who has been a renowned activist in the city, was taken into police custody. On 11 June, he was officially placed under arrest, and on 12 June, the family’s home was demolished. The demolition was broadcast LIVE across TV channels—a public display of their home razed to the ground, and their personal belongings taken out. The demolition attracted national and international outrage, with many terming it a form of ‘bulldozer justice’ or ‘bulldozer vendetta’. One year on, Javed Mohammad continues to be in jail, and the proceedings against the demolition of the home are still ongoing.

The Quint speaks to Afreen Fatima about her struggle in the last year, how the family came to terms with the demolition and the arrest, and if she has had to now be more cautious about what she posts on social media or how she conducts her politics.

Afreen Fatima's father Javed Mohammad was arrested one year ago, followed by the demolition of their home.

Afreen with her father, Javed Mohammad. 

(File image)

'Any Muslim Can Be Arrested For No Crime, I am No Exception': Afreen

The Prayagraj police had termed Javed Mohammad as the ‘mastermind’ and ‘key conspirator’ in the violence that emerged in the post-Friday prayer violence. His family had at the time cited his public appeal to everyone to maintain peace in the city, to challenge the arrest. Javed is accused under a number of charges, including the National Security Act (NSA).

“I believe the sole reason that he is still imprisoned and why the state is adamant to keep him behind bars is because he has been and is a vocal member of the Muslim community in Allahabad. He has not just criticised the government but taken the right steps to challenge the hate and rising Islamophobia in the city,” says Afreen.

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At the time of Javed’s arrest, Prayagraj SSP had said that Javed had “consulted” his daughter, Afreen, about the protests. Hours after the demolition, The Quint had spoken to Afreen’s younger sister, Sumaiya Fatima, who was also detained by the police, who said that the police had inquired about Afreen’s affiliations.

Afreen has been active and prominent in student politics in Aligarh Muslim University and subsequently in Jawaharlal Nehru University—her speeches, especially during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) had gone viral. On being asked if she thinks her father is being targeted for his association with her, Afreen doesn’t deny the possibility.

“They have made it into this collective punishment. My father is being punished not just for his activism but also for raising not just me but my siblings as well in a way that we are citizens of this country who speak up, who question, who are not silent. And he is being punished for raising his children in a way that they are vocal, that they have a sense of justice, and that they stand up,” she says.

“This has become a pattern where families are dragged into your activism, into what you are doing. The criminalisation that happens is not just of the political prisoner who is incarcerated, who is targeted on TV channels. The entire family is criminalised, the entire family is villainised. And that is exactly what has happened to me and my family,” adds Afreen.

Personally, however, Afreen says she does not fear more police action even if she does expect it.

“The way things have been for Muslims in India, I see myself as no different. Any person, it does not have to be someone who is politically or socially active, it does not have to be someone who is protesting...at any point, the police can barge into your home and arrest you for no crime at all. That insecurity is there. It’s not just me who fears this...I wouldn’t want to use the word ‘fear’. It’s not just me who expects that kind of action from the state, it’s several others," says Afreen.

‘LIVE Demolition a Message To Muslims and Hindus that This is Hindu Rashtra’ 

The visuals of Afreen’s family’s home being demolished had garnered widespread outrage one year ago. Afreen thinks it was a “form of punishment” to the family, but also a larger message to the country.

Afreen Fatima's father Javed Mohammad was arrested one year ago, followed by the demolition of their home.

Afreen's home was demolished on 12 June, 2022.

“It was done to make it clear to active members of the Muslim community that you would be punished and the punishment would get severe and it would get more personal. The LIVE telecast of the process was to give out this very message that the Muslims are being shown their place. That we will not accept any form of resistance from the Muslim community,” says Afreen.

She adds that there was also a message to the Hindu community as well. “A wider message to the Hindu majority was that this is what Hindu rashtra is, where Muslims’ houses, livelihoods, families would be demolished,” she says.

Soon after the demolition, the family had cited documents showing that the house was in Javed’s wife’s name— but the notice of demolition, that came a night prior, was addressed to him. “If it was in fact an illegal construction, I am sure the Prayagraj Development Authority would know who the house belongs to, they just wanted to punish Javed Mohammad and that’s why they sent the notice to his name,” says Afreen.

'Process Is Punishment'— Javed Mohammad Completes 1 Year In Prison

In the last year, Afreen has reduced her activity on social media and her appearance on public platforms. But she says this isn’t because she is scared or fearful, but because she is consumed by court proceedings. “The entire process of fighting for justice inside courtrooms is this tedious, herculean task. That’s why everyone says the process is the punishment,” says Afreen.

Barring the case in Supreme Court against the demolition of their home, the family is also caught up in fighting the criminal charged levelled against Javed. Speaking to The Quint, Farman Naqvi, Javed’s lawyer, says that he has gotten bail in a number of cases in the last year.

“He has gotten bail in three cases from the Allahabad High Court, in two cases from the lower courts, and two cases are pending in the High Court. The NSA judgment has been reserved and is pending,” Farman Naqvi says.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Allahabad   Demolition   javed mohammad 

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