Washington, DC: Afreen Fatima, an activist whose house was illegally demolished by the Uttar Pradesh government over the weekend has slammed the authorities, saying they razed her home to “punish, humiliate, and harass” her family for being active Muslims.
“It is an alarming trend that… law enforcement, the government, and development authorities arbitrarily, unjustly, illegally, and lawlessly demolish Muslims households. They also punish and incarcerate Muslims for no crime at all,” Afreen Fatima, the activist, said at an online Congressional Briefing organized by 18 US-based civil rights organizations.
“This [demolition] was just a way to punish my father for being an active local member of the Muslim community,” she added.
The police in Prayagraj city, where Fatima lives, first detained her parents and a sister on June 12. Subsequently, district authorities razed their home even as television cameras rolled on.
On Friday, June 11, the city’s Muslims had marched to protest BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s hateful and blasphemous comments about Islam and Prophet Muhammad last month. Without offering any evidence, the district authorities blamed Fatima’s father, Javed, claiming he masterminded Friday’s violence.
The BJP has since expelled Sharma but the police have failed to arrest her under Indian law. At the same time, Muslims across India who continue to call for Sharma’s arrest have been subjected to police brutality, unlawful arrests, and having their homes razed to the ground by the authorities.
In Ranchi, protestors were shot allegedly by the police, killing two youth. Unofficially, police fired 150 rounds which injured at least 20 people.
In Fatima’s case, her father, diabetic mother, and younger sister were all detained after the police scapegoated her father as being the mastermind behind the Pragyaraj protests.
Listen to Afreen Fatima:
“There was no warrant when [my father] was taken away,” said Fatima, a student leader and vocal critic of the BJP. She was at the forefront of the protests called nationwide in 2019 to protest the Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests that introduced, for the first time, a religious test in citizenship laws.
“The detention of my mother and my sister was illegal because in order to detain females for any inquiry or any investigation, the police first had to get a certain permission from the Magistrate, which was never done.”
Fatima emphasized that the family had been paying all of their taxes and utility bills, and had never received any notice that their home was illegally constructed.
“There is collective punishment to the entire Muslim community which says that you cannot speak up… I urge everyone to not just speak up about this, but to hold authorities and law enforcement and governments accountable for the arbitrary and lawless power that they exercise over Muslim bodies, Muslim houses, and Muslim lives.”
On the occasion, Govind Acharya, specialist at Amnesty International, said that the Modi government is, “selectively and viciously cracking down on Muslims who dare to speak up and peacefully express their dissent against the discrimination faced by them… which is in complete violation of India’s commitments under international human rights law.”
“We at Amnesty are calling on Indian authorities to immediately put an end to the excessive use of force in response to large scale protests in the country… We also call for the immediate release of those who have been arbitrarily arrested solely for peacefully exercising the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are guaranteed by India’s constitution,” said Acharya.
“This is not just affecting activists. You do not need to be a vocal Muslim to have a target placed on your back,” said Amin Zama, Associate Director for the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy organization dedicated to upholding civil and human rights in India. “The BJP have proved this by demolishing the homes of poor Muslims in Delhi, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh with only the flimsiest evidence connecting them to riots or illegal construction. This is clearly another step towards the genocide of 220 million Muslims, and India is drawing closer to it by the day.”
According to Ria Chakrabarty, Policy Director at Hindus for Human Rights, a nonprofit, India seemed to be, “Taking notes from the Israeli hard right and pursuing a similar strategy to create an ethnonationalist apartheid state, where religious and cultural minorities live a separate and unequal existence.”
“The US government should use its human rights toolbox, especially through the International Religious Freedom Act, to punish individuals who have clearly persecuted India’s religious and cultural minorities,” said Chakrabarty.
The briefing was co-sponsored by Genocide Watch, World Without Genocide, Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign, 21Wilberforce, Dalit Solidarity Forum, New York State Council of Churches, International Commission on Dalit Rights, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, India Civil Watch International, Center for Pluralism, American Muslim Institution, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, International Society for Peace and Justice, The Humanism Project and Association of Indian Muslims of America.