Anything can be used to dehumanise you: Activist Afreen after UP home demolition

"I am sure that even if there were no protests in my city, my father would still be fabricated by the state, given the fact that he acknowledged the rising intolerance," said Afreen Fatima.

“Javed Pump sounds like a gangster’s name,” smiles 24-year-old Afreen Fatima. Her father, Javed Mohammad was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police on June 11 after he was named as the ‘mastermind’ behind the protests.

Protests occurred around several parts of the country, including Prayagraj (Allahabad), demanding stringent action against the now sacked Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, after they made derogatory comments on Prophet Muhammad, after Friday prayers.

In a video interview with Maktoob Media, Afreen speaks about her relations with her father, the house and the memories, and why their family was targeted.

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Afreen’s house was demolished on June 13 by the Prayagaraj district administration stating it was illegally constructed. A night before that, Javed Mohammad was arrested and Afreen’s mother and younger sister were detained by the police.

Though the demolition order evoked a huge outcry from many politicians, journalists, activists and citizens in common, the administration went ahead and razed down the two-storey building which stood strong for 20 odd years.

“I think there was some sort of hostility towards him (Mohammad Javed). And that hostility translated into this,” Afreen said as she introspected. “He was very active during anti-CAA protests in Allahabad (now Prayagraj), she added.

“Then,” she continues, “One thing that I can think of, that I can highlight is that there was a Dharma Sansad that was organised in Allahabad and Abu was the only person who tried to complain against it in the relevant police station. The complaint was never registered.”

“He also took it up with every official of the administration and I think that is something that made him come into their hit list,” Afreen said.

In January this year, Hindutva and far right-winged leaders organised a Dharma Sansad where the demand to release Yati Narasinghanand and Jitendra Tyagi was made, failing which the state was threatened with “dire consequences”.

Afreen talks about a day before June 10, when the nationwide protest had not yet erupted. A day before June 10, Javed Mohammad was called by the administration.

“They were like constantly asking,” Afreen stops for a moment and then continues, “Not asking, in fact telling him that there is something that is going to happen on Friday.”

Afreen remembers her father replying back that he had no information regarding that and there was no protest call from any Muslim organisation or the local masjid. “But the administration was adamant that something is going to happen on Friday and they even suggested to my father in a very intimidating way that if something does happen, you will be held accountable for it.”

Talking to the interviewer, Afreen says that there was a sense of being targeted after that incident. Remembering the CAA (Citizenship (Amendment) Act) protests that rocked the country way back in 2019, Afreen said that her father was falsely accused in a case for ‘stealing a tree from kabiristan‘ (graveyard), hence the family was expecting bad news.

However, the family did not expect the state would accuse Javed of being the ‘mastermind’ of the protest. Afreen confesses that she never expected it to be violent, fabricated and humiliating.

“He has a very clean record in town. Everyone knows him. His entire life has been an open book,” said Afreen who was confident that the police could never fabricate her father.

Afreen’s family house was not under Javed’s name. It was a gift given to her mother, Parveen Fatima, from her maternal grandfather. Hence, Javed had no legal stake in the house.

“I think it’s less to do with what we were accepting and more to do with what happened and how we have accepted. We have not accepted the injustice or that we will not fight but the fact that we are not going to let it break us,” said a defiant Afreen.

This demolition has caused widespread condemnation by eminent personalities such as Shashi Tharoor and AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) chief Asaduddin Owaisi. #IStandWithAfreenFatima started to trend with many netizens denouncing the state, central governments and the judiciary as being mute spectators.

On being asked about her now demolished house, Afreen said, “To be quite honest, I did not like the house,” she says recalling the infrastructure of the house, before breaking into a laugh. “I had several times told Abu to shift the bathroom, make the wash basin somewhere else,” she continues smiling.

Afreen said that the house was not about stones and bricks but more than that. She said that it contained memories of the people who lived there, and who spent their time there.

Lovingly talking about her father, Afreen said, “Abu built that house with a lot of love. He would do more than he could afford. Each and everything in that house, including the curtains, furniture, flooring, and lights were handpicked by him.”

Afreen’s house was where she and her family could be themselves. The building also housed nearly 500 plants that were planted by her mother. “I also imagined that the plants would be cursing them (administration officials) when the house was being demolished. That gives me relief,” said a smiling Afreen.

Reporters and camerapersons from different news channels started showing off pieces of the family’s belongings. Greetings cards, posters, books etc, were flashed into the screens of every Indian watching the destruction.

“I felt a lot of shame because our personal objects were displayed. Each object in the house had a massive story behind it. A lot of time my mother would say that our house was a kabaad khaana (dumpyard)” she remembers fondly with a smile.

Afreen tells the interviewer that the first thing they shifted from the house was their Islamic books and Qurans.

Afreen says that even though letting go was very difficult as a family during the demolition, they were strangely fine with it.

Asked about what now, Afreen said that their first priority was to get up and fight. “My father has been falsely incriminated. We have already started the legal process.”

Another rumour that has been floating since the protests is the manipulation and plotting being played by the father-daughter. Laughing it off, Afreen said, “We are two different individuals. My father and I would always agree to disagree. He trusted me enough to do all the things that I am doing. He broke the general stereotype of a Muslim father.”

Afreen points out that the case is manipulated in such a way that most of them have even failed to get her father’s name correct. “Some news reports have mentioned him as Javed Ahmed, which is not his real name,” she laughs off.

Regarding the name, Javed Pump, used to refer to her father in news headlines, Afreen says, “My father has a business of submersible pumps and had gotten a lot of boring work done in the city. Hence people stored his name as ‘Javed Pump’. Now apparently it sounds like a cool gangster name. It is bizarre.”

“It is funny but at the same time, it is also disturbing as literally anything can be used to dehumanise you,” Afreen points out.

About the demolition, Afreen said that it is not just her family who has been targeted but many Muslim families have lost their homes across India.

Afreen said that Muslims are being punished for being Muslims. “I am sure that even if there were no protests in my city, my father would still be fabricated by the state, given the fact that he acknowledged the rising intolerance.”

Terming the Hindutva ideology against Muslims as a fetish, Afreen said, “It is like a fetish of something to see a Muslim house crumble, to see Muslims being demonized and dehumanised on national TV on a daily basis. That is their (Hindutva following people) idea of fun.”

Afreen is confident that the Muslim community will survive in the end. “The Islamic history is that that we have survived way worse than this,” she concludes with a smile.

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