At An Iftar in Delhi, The Families of Pehlu Khan, Mohammed Akhlaq and Najeeb Ahmed Express Solidarity Against the Persecution of Muslims

Before breaking their fast, the members of the families spoke about the incidents that had become the reason for their presence at the iftar. Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
09 June, 2017

On the evening of 7 June, the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO)—the student wing of the Islamic organisation the Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind—hosted an iftar get-together at the SIO headquarters in Jamia Nagar, in Delhi. Present at the gathering were the families of: Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Haryana’s Nuh district, who, in April, was killed in Alwar, Rajasthan, by a mob of cow-protection vigilantes while he was transporting cattle to his farm; Mohammed Akhlaq, a resident of Bisada village in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, who was murdered in September 2015 by a mob that suspected that he had been storing and consuming beef; and Najeeb Ahmed, a first-year Masters of Science student of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, who went missing in October 2016 after an alleged altercation with members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad— the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student affiliate. Azmat Khan and Mohammed Rafiq, two dairy farmers from Nuh who were attacked along with Pehlu Khan and his sons, were present at the event as well.

Thouseef Madikeri, an SIO member who helped organise the event, told me that the gathering had been called reflect on the crimes committed against members of the Muslim community in the past few years. “The common thread here is quite clear. They have all been wronged and none of them have received any justice yet,” Madikeri said. Several tables were arranged for attendees to come together and break their fast under a shamiana erected outside the SIO office building. Before they began eating, the members of the families narrated the incidents that had become the reason for their presence at the event.

Azmat Khan, Pehlu Khan’s neighbour and a dairy farmer, recounted the attack they faced. He said that the mob that stopped their vehicle attacked them after “analysing our facial features.” “Only the driver Arjun was allowed to go,” he added. “When we were stopped, he [the driver] said he was a Hindu.” The mob then began to thrash him, Pehlu and their other associates, Azmat said. “They had the intention to kill.” He added that the group attempted to show paperwork to the attackers, to prove that they were dairy farmers simply going about their work, but that the mob refused to look at the documents. “After all this, the police have not registered a case against the attackers, but they have against us,” Azmat said. “If our trade has become a threat to our lives, then the government should assist us in moving to something else.”

“When they looked at my father and his beard, they made up their mind to kill him,” Irshad Khan, Pehlu’s son, said. Since Pehlu’s death, he added, “Not even a single member of either the Haryana or Rajasthan government has come to meet and enquire about either me or my family.” Irshad said that after the attack, in addition to his family, other Muslim dairy farmers in Nuh had begun to fear for their lives and livelihood. He added that the government should adequately compensate the dairy farmers. “My family has been in this line of work a long time, but we should not have to die for it,” he said. “If the cow and now even the buffalo cannot be transported, then they should be bought from us and kept in the gaushala.”

Following Irshad, Mohammed Akhlaq’s brother Jaan Mohammed addressed the gathering. “Aaj-kal iss desh mein, sher agar samne aaye toh hum jaise logon ki musibat kam reh jati hai,” he said. “Lekin agar mere peeche bhi kisi ko gaay dikh gayi, toh bahut badi musibat mein phas sakta hoon,” (In our country today, people like us are will be safer if we encounter a lion. But if there is a cow even behind me, I can get into trouble.) “All of you know about the case of my brother because it received worldwide coverage,” Jaan said. He stressed that the murder of his brother was a premeditated attack. “Because of a rumour about him slaughtering a cow, there was a loudspeaker announcement at the temple in the village,” he said, before adding, “How could something like this take place in the spur of the moment?” “Not even a chicken had been executed” at Akhlaq’s house, Jaan said.

Fatima Nafees, Najeeb Ahmed’s mother, began her address by stating that the role of the police has become more to bother people from certain social groups, than to help them when they are in need. “My son was assaulted and he called me and told me who did it to him as well,” she said, “but when I went to complain to the police, they refused to note the names of the boys down.” She said that the station house officer at the Vasant Kunj police station strong-armed her into filing only a missing-persons complaint. “Agar tumhe beta chahiye, toh woh karo joh main bata raha hoon”—if you want your son, then do what I tell you, Nafees said the police officials told her. “They still have not found my son and not a single one of his assaulters has been charged with anything,” she added. “The university administration also took the side of those who attacked him—what a shame.”

Nafees said that until people from the Muslim community began supporting each other and speaking up in each other’s defence, they would continue to be victims of harassment and injustice. “Najeeb was attacked by those people because he was Muslim,” she said. “They repeatedly said yeh mulle-katwe ko Pakistan bhej do”—Send this Muslim to Pakistan. “My son was not targeted for doing anything wrong, he was targeted for being a Muslim,” Nafees said. “That is what all of our relatives here have been targeted for.”

Mohammad Salim Engineer, the general secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, underscored this sentiment in the few comments he made after the members of the families had spoken. “Understanding what has been happening to us as a community under this government is vital,” he said. Engineer added that the institutions that are meant to safeguard and protect the rights of the marginalised could no longer be expected to do so. “It is our responsibility as a community to organise the aam-aadmi in India to fight against the degradation of democratic institutions in the country,” he said. He added that several political leaders too had been complicit in stoking tensions against minority communities. “I hope that those criminals that have reached high positions and are hiding behind big seats of power are brought to justice someday,” Engineer added. He then mentioned an iftar celebration at Jamia Millia Islamia University, hosted by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the Muslim wing of the RSS. “This event should be viewed as a response to the iftar at Jamia Millia,” he said, light-heartedly.

On hearing a prayer call from a neighbouring mosque, the organisers invited the attendees to offer prayers and break their fasts. Members of the gathering broke fasts with fruits, juice and assorted snacks, such as pakoras. I spoke to Mohammed Rafiq, one of the farmers who was with Pehlu Khan when he was attacked. I asked him what he expected from the event. “We would have broken our fast at this time wherever we were, may as well be here where we had the opportunity to remind people from the press what has been done to us,” Rafiq said. He told me that the attackers had broken his lower ribs and his nose and that because he did not have the funds required for treatment, he was waiting for the wounds to heal on their own. “The attack has left me physically unfit for the work I used to do, but we have been doing this for so long that I am not sure what comes next,” he said.

Sadaf Musharaf, Najeeb’s cousin, said that events such as these were important because the current state of the media is terrible. “We all know that only a few outlets report facts these days,” she said. “Most media outlets do not even care about atrocities against Muslims a week or two after they are committed.” Musharaf said that she would like to add a point to Nafees’s plea for unity. “We need to be united and when our neighbours get attacked henceforth, we must remember that we also have instruments that will assist us in fighting back,” she said. “If there is a mob attacking us, we must fight back, we cannot keep thinking of ourselves as victims.”

Once the attendees had broken their fast, many of them assembled to offer prayers at a small room within the SIO compound. I spoke to Jaan Mohammed briefly before he left the venue. He told me that after his brother’s death, he had read several reports regarding beef. “I have also been hearing that the cow is this country’s mother, why then do we export so much of our mother’s meat?” he asked. Jaan also mentioned a recent central-government notification that banned the sale of cattle for slaughter. “This law cannot be enforced by people who don’t have the right to do so,” he said, referring to cow-protection vigilantes. “And if it is being enforced, then it cannot be selectively.” He added: “Aaj main yahi dua karunga”—that is what I will pray for today.