A three-story house of Khushboo Akhtar, a 33-year-old Delhi-based Muslim woman journalist, turned into ashes by fire on the intervening night of August 29 and 30 in Sultanpuri, a Hindu-dominated area of Northwest Delhi.
Akhtar was informed about the fire by neighbours of her now-burnt house on the early morning of August 30. She had relocated to Noida with her family last year.
It took her 45 minutes from her Noida house to reach her Sultanpuri house. By the time she reached, nothing was left but ashes, including a copy of the Quran and Ramayana. Though the neighbours called the fire brigade to douse the fire enough damage was done before they came.
She alleged that it might be an attack on the work she has been doing, which mainly voice the concerns of Muslim and marginalized community.
However, she didn’t mention any suspects in the incident but completely denied the possibility of a short circuit, as there had been no electricity connection since she moved out. The old house is still occupied with their valuables, belongings, and memories mostly belonging to her deceased mother whom she fondly remembers and calls ‘Amma’.
Akhtar and her brother Nadeem Akhtar run a news portal, “Pal Pal News”, which has a massive following with 2.17 million subscribers on YouTube. The channel widely covers and shows the sufferings of Indian Muslims and unrepresented groups.
Created in 2015, the channel says it is India’s only Muslim women-run brand which primarily focuses on Muslim, Dalit, Tribal, Women and child rights and Farmers.
Akhtar recalls that when she reached the police station to get an FIR registered, an officer in civil dress blamed her for calling multiple times.
“I told her, as someone whose house is on fire, they would even call a hundred times,” Akhtar narrated. “When I told her that I am here to submit my complaint, she said that your complaint is taken and nothing will happen.”
Finally, her complaint was taken at the Sultanpuri police station on Wednesday.
The police registered her complaint after a prolonged and she was made to sit in the police station till 7 pm. A first information report was registered under Section 436 of the Indian Penal Code, (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house).
She alleged that while she was at the police station to file the complaint, the police officers went to her home and threatened his brother Nadeem to change the statement in the complaint not to mention the burning of the Quran.
“How can we take back anything, the Quran was not even there where it was found burnt. It was in the almirah inside the room and we found it burnt outside in the hall area. Is it possible that the Quran can change its place itself? It means someone has done it deliberately,” she told Maktoob.
The Quran and Ramayana were kept together in the room in a locked almirah, the forensic team found the Ramayana and the Quran from outside near the washing machine in the lobby of the house.
She further said, “Whoever has done that has a problem with my religion, my holy scriptures, and as well as my journalism work, which is pro-people.”
“This is the cost you pay for unveiling the truth,” Akhtar said.
When asked about if she doubts anyone, she said, “I don’t have any personal enmity with anyone but these are the people we write and work against, the people who are anti-minority and anti-marginalized.”
She often receives, death and rape threats for her work, and ‘Pal Pal News’ has also faced termination multiple times.
“Most of the news stories covered by Pal Pal News that concern marginalized especially Muslims receive a large number of hate-filled comments and abuses. I cannot recall one story that wasn’t targeted by the right-wing and hate trolls,” she explained.
Akhter mentioned one news report she did which talked about how the state is using bulldozers as a tool to demolish houses belonging to Muslims, after which she received a lot of hate comments and threats in her inbox.
In 2018, YouTube terminated Pal Pal News’ account alleging that its videos had violated the platform’s community guidelines regarding hate speech. This action by YouTube was taken following a news report that revealed targeting Muslims with hate speech content.
Akhtar said that she was brought up in an environment where since childhood she learned to respect every religion as her parents had an inter-religious marriage, her mother followed Hinduism and her father follows Islam.
“Amma and her memories were in this house which is now gone to the grappling hate in this country. This hate has taken a lot of lives and homes, including mine. Most times, I am viewed as a Muslim alone and not as a journalist and when they see me as a journalist; they are against my pro-people work,” Akhtar added.