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House of Afroz demolished
By MH Lakdawala

Mumbai: The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) completely demolished the illegal 200-foot extension of the house of Mohammad Afroz. Mumbai police has charged Afroz with being an al-Qaeda agent who planned to blow up Parliament and the House of Commons in London. 

The demolition at Cheetah Camp, Trombay was opposed by the locals. During the demolition a 500-strong mob, led by local corporator Noor Mohammad Zakaria, gheraoed the BMC team who had come for demolition. Questions are being raised by the activists why demolish house of a suspected person as it will affect the other members of family who are innocent. 

Assistant Municipal Commissioner VP Prabhu said the demolition notice had been served in June, long before Afroz was arrested. "A final notice was given on 11 November. We extended the deadline for another 15 days," he said. According to Prabhu, Afroz's family had flouted rules by illegally constructing an extra floor and building a passage between two structures. They had also encroached on some piece of land by extending the boundaries of the residence, he said. 

"We have to issue notices before demolishing a structure, hence we had issued a notice in August and November. Since no action was taken by the family, we had to demolish the structure," Prabhu added. 

Afroz's residence in Trombay in north-east Mumbai came into public glare following his confession to city police that he was in the suicide squad of al-Qaeda, which had planned to simultaneously blow up prominent structures in US, UK, Australia and India. 

Replying to a query regarding the timing of the demolition and Afroz's arrest, Prabhu said that the demolition could not be carried out earlier because the BMC has to issue notices and wait for the reply. "All this takes months." However, he did admit that the demand for the demolition had gained momentum after Afroz's arrest and his subsequent remand to magisterial custody. 

The Afroz family is currently fighting for his release and denying his involvement with the militant outfit while simultaneously facing the threat of part of their house being razed to the ground. 

The 26-year-old Afroz, who was arrested from Navi Mumbai in November, has confessed to police that he frequently visited Australia, USA, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and China between 1997 and 2001.

But many questions arise.There are many such illegal structures in the Cheetah Camp itself which are not touched. Why target Afroz family who are innocent? An editor of leading national daily said "The main reason for this is Afroz's name itself. Any other name would not have invited the media glare and the subsequent action."

The main issue here is not whether Afroz is guilty or not.The issue is the presentation and handling of the entire episode.The sustained Sangh Parivar propaganda is creating the image amongst the masses that Muslims are 'extremists' and are pro-Pakistan and anti-India.

The Afroz episode has revealed an alarming trend. Previously Muslims were branded as communal. Now the strategy of the Sangh Parivar has changed. Instead, Muslims are being often branded as 'anti-nationals.' It started with the ban on SIMI on grounds of 'anti-national activities'.Gradually Muslim petty criminals were branded as 'ISI agents'. Now Muslims arrested for various crimes are falsely implicated for being Al Qaeda agents. The consequences of this are quite alarming:

Even Muslim political leadership and intelligentsia do not want to comment on this injustice as they themselves fear being branded as anti-nationals. When this correspondent requested comments on the issue of Afroz arrest and his family house being demolished, several Muslim politicians and intelligentsia here refused to say anything on the ground of this being a 'sensitive issue.'

Media is following the official line. It does not even question the Police version.

The trend is moving towards branding entire families as accused even if one member is arrested. Afroz's brother has also been accused in this case and family residence targeted.

Using the pretext of 'national security' Police randomly conduct combing operations in Muslim localities to which the accused belong.

Many innocent youngsters and their families are being harassed and detained for questioning. This is quite evident after the SIMI ban as many youngsters have been arrested on the pretext of being SIMI member. Even in the Afroz case many Muslims were detained for questioning.

Sangh Parivar's new strategy is to brand more and more Muslim individuals and organisations 'anti-national' and project the distorted image of the community before the masses. This way Sangh Parivar can easily sideline Muslims because when the issue of 'national security' arises even the human rights activists and organisations refuse to comment. Also under the pretext of 'national security' all the rights of the accused stand suspended.

Time and again the issue of the communalisation of Police is raised but Government is not taking action and Muslims continue to suffer. In many cases, and in particular Afroz case, it is difficult to believe the Police version. Mumbai police has no evidence except Afroz's 'confession'. 

As is well known confessions to the police raise many questions. In the early 1980s when dacoity was at its peak in Uttar Pradesh, a story began to circulate which illustrated the functioning of this country's police force. A man-eating cat, it said, was causing havoc in parts of Kumaon Hills. When the populace clamoured for government intervention, the local administration took the extraordinary step of deploying the PAC. After a week of unsuccessful vigilance and action, the Border Security Force (BSF) was called in. When the BSF also failed to apprehend the man-eater, a regiment of the army was assigned the task of killing the man-eater. Still the man-eater eluded capture. So after many deliberations, two constables of the Delhi police, Satbir Singh and Rajvir Singh, were sent to the jungle. Within a few hours they emerged triumphant, leading a wailing donkey which kept saying, "I confess I am the man-eater, I confess..."

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