“An Ordinary Man’s Guide To Radicalism” is a memoir of a kid coming from an interior area in Bihar, aiming to become a civil servant or a doctor in Delhi. He lands up in one of the Delhi’s ghettos, which later becomes infamous for the encounter of two suspected terrorists in 2008. His innocence is lost amid the police raids, the looming insecurity and suspicion against everyone.

The memoir isn’t just of Neyaz Farooquee. I too had migrated from a small town in Bihar, though I had chosen a different train. I also headed for the same Muslim ghetto in Delhi, probably because I knew the people there. I too had been admitted to the same school, later in the same course and the same university, but during different course of time. The only difference is that while the encounter took place, he was there suffering and I came to the ghetto just to feel the aftershocks. The book isn’t just about him or/and me, but about several others who had faced, or are facing or would face a similar alienation.

Farooquee in this book talks about his journey through life, his stay at Batla House, a Muslim ghetto and his identity which would revolve around the encounter of two suspected terrorists in Batla House in 2008. The encounter created fear among the people in the area which redefined identities, friendships, loyalties and created fear and hostility.

Many believe that the encounter was shady, due to the loopholes in police narrative after the encounter. The National Human Rights Commission was criticised as it never visited the encounter site during the investigation nor did it talk to any people from the other side.

“How do you react when something like a police encounter happens in your locality, and a few doors down, two men are killed –two of your neighbour, who have been labelled terrorists.” The book attempts to answer the same.

Some excerpts from the interview:

-On the reason behind the writing the book after 10 years of Batla House Encounter

I had come to Delhi with lots of hopes of becoming a doctor or an IAS. But the encounter changed a lot of things, including me. The reportage and the political response following the encounter, that we witnessed was scary. Everybody including the leaders assumed that the men killed were terrorists, though evidence suggests that the encounter was shady.

It was not only those two men who were assumed to be guilty, but the entire neighbourhood was tainted as terrorist sympathisers. It made many, including me to think why it was happening.

Therefore I decided to go into journalism and later I was employed with a reputed daily newspaper. But, I realised later that we had to work under constraints. To do justice to stories like these I needed to write stories, as long as book length, which made me to write this book.

-On the role of class in the discourse on the othering of Muslims

Often it is seen that those who are discriminated come more from the lower classes among Muslims. Also in the case of lynching, the majority of the victims again come from the lower class. But in the cases of violence like riots, people from both the classes are victims.

Though class plays an important role in the case of Muslims, the discrimination coming from external forces is not on the basis of class but mostly on the basis of religion. We could see this in the case of Ehsan Jaffri (Former MP killed by a mob in his own apartment), who come from a high class could be killed and nobody could save him inspite of his calls to the prominent leaders during that time.

-How do you connect the encounter to the larger reality around the Muslim identity in the country?

Batla House is located in the capital of the country, close to the centre of power. Some of the people living here are influential sometimes highly educated Muslim elites. Even then something like the Batla House encounter happens and we cannot get a proper enquiry.

The ghetto in the Juhapura exists because of the riots in 2002 that led the Muslims to live at the periphery. Similarly, the riots in Maliana in Meerut, Nellie Massacre or Bhagalpur riots, the victims weren’t given justice. These faraway places weren’t even connected to each other. We are still not able to negotiate justice to them.

By even living even in Delhi we could not get justice for ourselves, then how could we imagine justice for faraway places. So, the book symbolises the helplessness of the Muslim community.

-On the type and title of the book

The first reason behind the title derives from the implicit danger behind ghettoising people or marginalising them which might lead to resistance. The resistance could be radicalisation or unlawful means, though never welcome could be possible.

The second reason is the shift after 1992. Before, my grandfather was a nationalist “good Musalmaan”, who used to teach me Sanskrit and Kabir, but after 1992, he started asserting his identity. Iqbal replaced Kabir, “taqreer” (Urdu word for speech) replaced “bhashan” (Hindu form of speech).

After reading the title “An ordinary man’s guide to radicalism” and seeing the writer as a Muslim what comes to your mind? Do you think that it’s a guide to radicalism? If one believes that it’s about radicalism seeing the Muslim name as an author, then there is a problem with one’s mindset. Why can’t this title be seen as a satire or ironical?

-Will the absence or the elimination of the right wing politics alleviate the problem of communalism affecting the Muslims in India?

Right wing politics always existed in India. The right wing was not so powerful as they are now. The absence of right wing politics would reduce ghettoisation is a difficult thing to say. Ghettoisation is a very slow process. Withdrawing to a shell could happen because of one bad incident. But to get out of the shell will need a lot of confidence and trust.

We cannot choose to ignore the right wing forces in the future. They are going to stay and they are going to be strong which will further marginalised us.

-On balancing the objectivity throughout the book, since a lot is written in the book about what he saw, felt and experienced

Memoir is often a narcissistic job, where you often end up refining yourself. My journalistic training taught me to be neutral and objective. I employed the same training while writing the book. So, even though I am writing memoir I haven’t put myself on any pedestal. I have tried to judge myself as rigorously as possible. I am just a vehicle who just happened to be there when the incident happened.