The activist and author Farah Naqvi, who has visited some of the riot-affected areas of Delhi, says: “Muslims feel scared, vulnerable and threatened in Modi’s India and are reduced to second class citizenship but the CAA protests are a significant turning point. They are reclaiming their citizenship and other rights.” In a 50 minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, she spoke at length about what she has seen and learned in the riot-affected areas but also about what it feels like to be a Muslim in Modi’s India.
Farah Naqvi says that the reports coming out in the press of the extent of violence do not really capture the emotional and psychological damage that has been inflicted on the survivors. She says people feel “abandoned … bewildered … stunned”. They cannot comprehend what has happened. Farah Naqvi says you can see the pain and suffering in the eyes of the people. She says it speaks louder than words.
Questioned about the police response, Farah Naqvi says the Muslims she met do not speak about filing FIRs and looking for justice. They have completely lost faith in the police and do not believe they will get justice. They talk of rehabilitation but not of police action and nyay. They do not believe that they will be treated equally by the police. Speaking to The Wire about the unprofessional police response Farah Naqvi said this is why she and Harsh Mander asked the Delhi High Court for a special investigation team headed by a retired judge to inquire into the Delhi riot.
Farah Naqvi also told The Wire that “the targeting of Muslims in North East Delhi is clear and unambiguous”. She says this is exactly what happened to Sikhs in 1984 and Muslims in 2002. She says Muslims were targeted not because of their Islamic faith but their identity as Muslims. As a result, she says there is “fear everywhere”. Farah Naqvi says the people in the riot-affected areas are deeply disillusioned by the failure of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party government to reach out to reassure and comfort them. They had great expectations but feel not just let down but betrayed. She says the Aam Aadmi Party may speak in television studios of the contact their MLAs have established but she did not meet anyone who spoke of this. There was also no visible sign of Aam Aadmi Party presence trying to comfort and reassure.
She said no doubt the response from the BJP-led Central government was equally poor but Muslim people had not expected more. Therefore, there is not the same disappointment or feeling of betrayal.
Farah Naqvi told The Wire that after the Delhi riots it was more important than ever before that the communal violence bill, considered but not passed by the UPA, was brought into law. She said India needs a law that defines hate crime. It also needs a law that stipulates punishment for people who fail to take action both to prevent communal riots and to act properly once they happen. At the moment this is left to the moral conscience of governments. It needs to become a statutory requirement that cannot be evaded.
In part two of the interview (after the commercial break) Farah Naqvi spoke about what it means to be a Muslim in Modi’s India. Drawing upon her personal experience with stories from her own life, she explained that Muslims have been reduced to one single facet of their plural composite identity i.e. the fact that they are Muslim.
In the small towns and villages of Haryana, Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, and Bengal they feel scared, threatened and vulnerable. She said people try and make them feel unwanted but they don’t themselves feel unwanted because they know they belong. This is as much their home as it is of any other Indian citizen.
However, Farah Naqvi also explained that if a Muslim and a Hindu were to go to the police, having suffered similarly, the Muslims would be treated differently. She says Muslims are treated as second class citizens and made to feel like that.
Farah Naqvi thinks that the CNN/NRC protests are a very significant turning point. The door that has been closed to Muslims is now being forced open by Muslims themselves. They are asserting themselves as full-fledged citizens of India and reclaiming their citizenship and all their other rights. She believes this is a very important change which, at one point, she even called revolutionary.
The above is a paraphrased precis of Farah Naqvi’s interview.