Indian media gloats as Muslim activist’s house reduces to rubble

The civic authorities in Uttar Pradesh’s Allahabad razed the house of Muslim activists Javed Muhammed and Afreen Fatima on Sunday; the authorities claimed that it was an unauthorised construction.

The demolition came a day after Afreen’s father, Javed Muhammed, a Welfare Party of India leader, was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police for allegedly being one of the key conspirators in Allahabad’s protests against suspended Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammed.

According to Uttar Pradesh police, 68 people were arrested in Allahabad on Friday in connection with the protests. The same night, Afreen’s mother and sister were illegally detained by police and taken to the Civil Lines Mahila police station for questioning, a detail she learned hours later. 

On Sunday morning, the Prayagraj Development Authority asked Afreen’s family to vacate the house by 11:00 am. Authorities claimed that they had issued a notice to her family “on the 10th of May and a hearing was to take place on the 24th of May. However, no response was given from the family.” The notice claimed that the house is an illegal construction. 

While speaking to Maktoob, Afreen said that no notice was given to her family members in the past and it was part of the infamous “bulldozer politics”.

Media “celebration” of illegal demolition

Afreen’s house was reduced to rubble within hours in full media spotlight; reporters present outside her residence gave a detailed account of the house being bulldozed. They zoomed in on her family’s possessions – furniture, research papers, posters, documents, and books – so that the viewers and those in power could relish the family’s agony. 

“When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty,” read one of the posters that drew the attention of news channels, and was labelled as “incriminating evidence” by these reporters, they associated it with the “violence.”

Meanwhile, news anchors in their opulent studios interviewed ruling party spokespersons who justified the government’s illegal action.

“Bulldozers Vs. ‘Rioters’: ‘Rioters won’t be spared,” “Crackdown on rioters: Justice or Vendetta? “Mastermind made to pay, Bulldozer Justice Time, Action they won’t forget, CM’s No Tolerance Policy,” were among the top ticker lines in the hours-long coverage. 

In an interview with Al Jazeera Afreen called the bulldozing of her house “an act of vendetta against her family”.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister on Saturday tweeted that “strict action will be taken against anti-social elements attempting to disturb peace” he further added that “no innocent person will be targeted, and no culprit will be spared.” 

The media and the devoted supporters have dubbed Adityanath “bulldozer baba.” Many have labelled Adityanath’s policy of demolishing the homes of individuals who agitate against the government as “collective punishment.” 

The demolition of Muslim-owned properties drew attention earlier in April when the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh government razed Muslim-owned properties in connection with violence during the Ram Navami celebration.  This unlawful policy is being enforced by the state government in order to cause hardship for working-class Muslims and to set an example for those who oppose the government.

While Afreen’s family suffered as a result of the ruling government’s bias, the media and Hindutva supporters rejoiced in her plight. They celebrated the wreckage of her home as a victory. 

CNN News18 called it a “Bulldozer attack on Javed Muhammed’s house, Yogi government will not spare the rioters” in Hindi. 

News organisation’s model of labelling someone a “mastermind” is based on zero evidence. 

The popular news organisations and the general public’s celebrations of the demolition of Muslim homes are an example of senseless hatred, they frequently propagate baseless claims in order to incite a greater surge of Islamophobia.

Senior journalist Shams-Ur-Rahman-Alavi says the demolition of Muslim houses shows a pattern of bias against Muslims. Alavi says that the media plays a dubious role in such scenarios.

“The media coverage reflects the newsroom composition and prejudices, and in a way, the reporters aim to impress the establishment for their own advantage,” Alavi added.

He further asserts that most media organisations share a common perception and political agenda and that these and these outlets help each other to accomplish the given task. 

“Media plays a major role in shifting the opinion of the people, it’s unfortunate that in a huge country like India, we do not have a media watchdog to keep a check on the biased coverage,” Alavi said. 

Political analyst Zainab Sikander in her paper Islamophobia in Indian Media writes “Islamophobia has really hit home in India through the media’s constant assault on Muslims as the perpetrators of terror…”

She says that the demonisation of Indian Muslims is fueled by communal primetime shows.

“The front-page headlines that are evidently clickbait, are serving the purpose of deepening the fissures between communities and confirming the idea of an “us vs. them” scenario,” Sikander writes.

The Indian media has generated an unreasonable dread of Muslims in the hearts of India’s majority population, undermining the country’s human rights.

BJP’s unlawful policy of demolition

Kamal Krishna Roy, Javed Muhammed’s lawyer, filed a plea in Allahabad court opposing the demolition.

Roy in his letter to the Chief Justice stated that the house was registered under the name of Parveen Fatima, the wife of Javed Muhammed. Roy told Scroll that “the house was a gift from Parveen Fatima’s father.”

“Any attempt by the District and Police Administration and the Development Authority to demolish that house will be against the basic principle of law and a grave injustice to the wife and children of Javed Mohammed,” the letter to the chief justice stated, the Scroll reported. 

Afreen told the media that they had been paying house tax for over twenty years and never received any notification from the Allahabad development authorities.

“Why were they even accepting our taxes if it was an unlawful house?” Fatima questioned. 

Areeb Uddin Ahmed, a lawyer practising in Allahabad high court says that the whole process of such demolition drives is in contravention of rule of law. The rule of wheels will never be able to replace the rule of law.

“Such demolition without giving considerable time violates the Right To Be Heard – Which is one of the cardinal principles of natural justice is that no one should be condemned without being heard. This was, clearly, not followed in the case of the demolitions,” Ahmed told Maktoob.  

​​He explained that in Sudama Singh and others vs Government Of Delhi 2010, the Delhi High Court held that before any eviction, it was the duty of the State to survey all those facing evictions and to plan a rehabilitation plan in consultation with the “persons at risk”.

Ahmed added that the Allahabad High Court further held that if the State had reasons and still wanted to demolish the premises then officials had to first find a replacement.

Afreen was an elected student leader of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union and an iconic face of the anti-CAA movement. She is currently a national secretary of the Fraternity Movement.

Leaders of the Samajwadi Party, Congress, BSP, AIMIM, IUML, WPI, SDPI, PFI, several student groups and Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union demanded the immediate release of Javed while condemning the biased actions of the Uttar Pradesh Police.

Arshi Qureshi is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.