ALTAF AHMAD WAS AT HOME in Gurugram on 17 September 2021. It was his forty-fifth birthday. Throughout the morning, he had been fielding congratulatory calls and texts from his relatives and friends. Some of his callers joked about a coincidence: Ahmad shared his birthday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ahmad’s birthday fell on a Friday that year. As he prepared to head out for namaz, he received a call from Abdul Haseeb, a local imam who had been teaching his daughters Arabic, and they knew each other well. Haseeb told him that things were getting tense at the namaz site in Gurugram’s Sector 47. Dinesh Bharti, the founder of the far-right outfit Bharat Mata Vahini, had arrived at the site with a large number of supporters.
The Sector 47 prayer site is roughly five kilometres from Ahmad’s home. As he drove there, he received five calls. The imams were frantic. “Jaldi aaiye, jaldi aaiye”—come fast, come fast—they told him. “These guys are shouting threatening slogans.” Ahmad told the imams not to move from the prayer site. “We have the permission to pray there, and it’s the police’s job to give us security.”