Delhi Home of Independent Muslim Woman Journalist Set on Fire; She Suspects Foul Play

Khushboo Akhtar told The Wire that she often receives threats over her work, which involves raising issues concerning Muslims and other oppressed communities.

New Delhi: A Delhi-based independent Muslim woman journalist who runs a popular YouTube channel has alleged that miscreants burnt her house and turned into ashes her books, which included a copy of the Quran as well as the Ramayana.

While 33-year-old journalist Khushboo Akhtar, who runs the ‘Pal Pal News’ YouTube channel, has not identified any miscreants, she claims she was possibly targeted due to her journalism work, which involves raising issues concerning Muslims and other oppressed communities.

On Wednesday (August 30), the day of the incident, Akhtar and her family were not in the said house, as they had shifted to another house in the city a year ago.

However, they would often visit their old house – where they had still kept many of their belongings – and meet their neighbours.

A first information report was lodged at the Sultanpuri police station here on Akhtar’s complaint on Wednesday. The case was registered under Section 436 of the Indian Penal Code, which concerns “mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house [sic]”.

No suspect or accused was named.

Akhtar ruled out the possibility of a short circuit in the house, in which she was raised. Her family had snapped its power connection to prevent any mishaps, she said.

She suspected foul play after she noticed that her books, including the Quran and other religious scriptures, as well as a copy of the Hindu epic Ramayana, which her mother liked to read, had been pulled out from a cupboard and set on fire next to a washing machine outside the room.

The burnt bookshelf at Akhtar’s family home. Photo: By arrangement.

“The books were kept in the almirah,” Akhtar said.

Akhtar was informed about the fire a little after 6 am on Wednesday by her neighbours, who noticed smoke coming out of the third floor. The fire brigade managed to bring the flames under control, but not before most items were turned to ash or badly damaged.

When she reached her house 45 minutes after being alerted, Akhtar found that two beds, two cupboards, one dressing table, a washing machine and many books had been burnt.

“I keep getting threats for regularly drawing people’s attention to burning topics and social issues,” she said in her police complaint.

Akhtar said she had no personal enmity with anyone, but would often receive threats over her work.

When asked to specify any such threat, she told The Wire, “I often receive rape threats and other threats through Facebook comments and on WhatsApp. But we would take it as something normal these days. But setting someone’s house on fire is not normal.”

Pal Pal News has 2.17 million subscribers on YouTube. Akhtar describes it as a Muslim women-run brand focused on Muslim, Dalit, tribal, children and women’s rights, and on farmers.

In 2018, Pal Pal News’ account had been terminated by YouTube on the grounds that certain videos it uploaded had violated the website’s community guidelines on hate speech.

This happened after it had posted a video on hate speech against Muslims.