We, Muslims of India, Unbelong to Our Own Homes

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With the dispossession of Muslims in India being normalized and actively celebrated by the majoritarian communities, Afreen Fatima meditates on the critical question of home and belonging for 207 million Muslims, who find their present and futures rendered uncertain.

A large two-story house on a corner, with an open gate.
Afreen Fatima’s family house in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, before it was demolished by the state authorities, amid heavy police deployment on June 12, 2022. Courtesy of Afreen Fatima.

In the early morning hours of June 12, 2022, JK Ashiyana—a Muslim locality in Allahabad, a town in Uttar Pradesh where my home used to stand—fell dead and silent. The streets and alleys were suddenly filled with the rumblings of three big bulldozers as they moved into the densely populated Muslim neighborhood. The residents of JK Ashiyana felt the rumbling inside their hearts, fearing police action if they walked out. Police personnel who oversaw the demolishing of my home, laughed at and intimidated the silhouettes of people peeping from their windows. “Kashana-e-Fatima” (House of Fatima), read a stone on the outer wall of my house. Workers of the municipal corporation broke its doors open and threw out everything that made the house a home for us. The first hit of the bulldozer came, and the stone fell flat, followed by the entire two-story building. Nothing was left of Kashana-e-Fatima, except for the people who lived there for over twenty years.

Since that dreadful day, we, the people of Kashana-e-Fatima, have been wondering if the houses we have inhabited lately could be called our home. And for innumerable days, probably since the inception of the Indian state, the Muslims of India have been forced to wonder whether they will ever be able to freely call India their home. For many years now, the socio-political footing of Muslims of India has been under the inquiry of researchers and academics, who have raised and answered several important questions. A sizable number of reports, research projects, and books detail the persecution and marginalization of Muslim Indians, Indian Muslims, and Muslims in India. To say “Muslims of India” is intentional on my part, where “of” offers a semantic pathway, so that Muslims and India are related to one another and belong together. But in no way does creating this little semantic change modify the concern raised by rights organizations across the globe and ours, locally. Who belongs to India? Or does India belong to someone? How does one understand the semantics of being and belonging?

Muslims of India are seen with suspicion—perceived as enemies of the state, as sympathizers of our next-door neighbor Pakistan—but never as people who inherently belong to this country.

This kind of perception is rooted in a specific ideological ecosystem within India, which reigns over the legislative, governs the executive, controls the judiciary, and holds the media in its grip. It has made possible a deepening radicalization in Hindu society, which has criminalized all aspects of Islamic faith in India. This society continues to celebrate its hatred of Muslims, which has normalized apathy towards their predicament. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant right-wing Hindu organization, inspired by fascist movements in Europe, along with its political wing and the ruling party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have long popularized a brand of Hinduism that believes India to be primarily of Hindus and that all others should either assimilate into Hinduism or accept a second-class citizenship. The only idea of family that they cherish is one which abides by the Sangh Parivar, a conglomeration of over fifty Hindu nationalist organizations and the RSS. This is where even “the world’s largest democracy” has to perform its role as a member of this family. But what happens to my small and simple family? What happens to those who do not want to be forced into being a part of this family?