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Meet Rafia Naz: A yoga teacher in Ranchi who has been threatened, assaulted, abused by her own community multiple times

"When I walk on the road, they humiliate me by calling me the mistress of RSS", said Rafia to OpIndia.

Rafia Naz, a Yoga teacher from Hatia area in Ranchi, Jharkhand has made it to the headlines of many English as well as vernacular newspapers as a Yoga teacher, has been the target of radical members her own community on multiple occasions for years for merely following her passion. Rafia, who is the eldest among her siblings and teaches yoga for a living and considers yoga to be beyond religion has been targeted for daring to teach Yoga despite being a Muslim.

Radicals issue fatwa and death threats against Rafia in 2017

Rafia Naz came into public focus after photos of her doing yoga with Baba Ramdev went viral on social media in 2017. This had attracted the ire of few radicals who have issued a fatwa against her for this act. 

OpIndia got in touch with this brave woman, who undeterred by several threats and attacks continue teaching yoga. On being asked as to for how long this had been happening and the reasons behind the attacks on her, she replied that now all this has become a part of her normal routine. She has been facing the abuse and intimidation of these fundamentalists for years. She says that on November 8, 2017, some radical Islamists had threatened her on Zee News that Muslims would not read Namaz on the funeral. A day after that, on November 9, 2017, after she gave an interview to a TV channel today, some people pelted stones at her house.

Recounting the several times she has been abused and vilified because of her profession, she said that radicals have attempted to even kill her in the past. When asked as to what she thinks might be the reason behind these drastic reactions, Nazia said that the only reason was that she was a Muslim. Naz recalled how on June 20, 2016, she was physically assaulted by few radical Islamists who were against her profession. “I used to walk back home after work. On June 20, 2016, a pot was thrown on me. Sometimes, unknown people on the road would pull my scarf and run away. Once I was hit with a rod on my waist. A lot has happened to me”, remembered the Yoga teacher while in conversation with OpIndia.

Recollecting the horror, Naz said that had anyone gone through the same mental and physical impalement what she has been through for so many years would have become suicidal. Naz stated that she had decided to face all problems and be brave.

Rafia Naz goes on to apprise us with another mortifying incident of her past which left her and her family members flustered. She recollected how once her morphed nude pictures were circulated in social media by members of her own community for daring to defy their conservative rationale. She said that despite complaining to authorities and sharing details of like the ID, URL, link, etc., the posts were not blocked.

Kidnapped with an intention to kill at the age of 19

Rafia Naz furthered that when she was 19-years-old, she was once kidnapped by some radicals who wanted to kill her. When she was abducted and was being taken away on a scooty, she accidentally fell. She managed to flee and hid somewhere away from her house and remained there for the entire night only to return home the next day, recalled Naz.

The yoga teacher narrated another similar incident when she was once threatened to be killed within 48 hours. She also reminisced that once she was attacked by a rod so severely that she was unable to even sit. That assault gave her such intense wounds on her back that for the next one year Naz had to sleep on the floor, recalled the Yoga instructor.

Round the clock security provided by government

As we tried to delve further, we asked her whether she was provided with any kind of security from the state government? Rafia Naz answered: “In 2017, Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das took cognizance and provided me with 24-hour security, which has recently been withdrawn. I do not know why it has been removed. At that time, Rapid Action Force (RAF) and CRPF personnel were stationed outside my house, recollected Naz. “Imagine, how perilous the situation would have been then if RAF and CRPF jawans had to be deployed outside my house. To deal with a crisis like a coronavirus pandemic, the government has not yet involved the CRPF, now you can imagine how dire my situation would have been then that I had to be provided with CRPF and RAF security”, continued Rafia.

When threats against Rafia increased after her video with Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev went viral, it was acknowledged by Jharkhand Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary Sanjay Kumar. He, as a result, directed the police to increase Rafia’s security. Ranchi’s senior superintendent of police, Kuldeep Diwedi subsequently dispatched a police force to meet Rafia. Later as per a report issued by Jharkhand police, she has been given two bodyguards.

Rafia Naz calls her family her biggest strength

On being asked what kept her going, Rafia said that she drew strength and inspiration from her family. “My family is my real strength, they keep encouraging me”, said Rafia.

Recollecting the unnerving incidents of her past, Rafia said that because of her stand to keep teaching Yoga, even her family attracted the ire of those radicals. They were constantly abused and threatened. They were harassed with questions like: for how much money have you sold off your daughter?

“When I walk on the road, they humiliate me by calling me the mistress of RSS”, said Rafia furthering that whenever I go with a friend, people jeer my friend walking beside me by saying “look at that prostitute’s sister”. For them, my crime is that I am a Muslim woman practising and teaching yoga. I am stubborn because it is Indian culture and we should not be ashamed to follow it. I will keep practising yoga until death”, said the Jharkhand girl.

Speaking to OpIndia, Rafia at this point, recollected how she has struggled to get justice for herself and her family but seldom succeeded. She was many a time advised to commit suicide. When she went to the police to lodge complains, there too she received disappointment. “I was advised not to waste the officer’s time”. The police abused and belittled me by passing vulgar remarks at me. They said things like “the Prostitue is spoiling the atmosphere of our locality”, but all this never discouraged me, I never used to give up. Made sure not to leave the police station until my FIR was lodged and I was not given the FIR receipt slip, said Rafia.

Here, the Yoga Instructor recollected one such incident when she was harassed by the police, who refused to cooperate with her and help her in distress. Referring to an incident which happened with her, Rafia said: “Once I was invited to a program in Khelgaon. I was told that if I did not attend that particular seminar, I would not be offered any other seminar in the future. I was forced to accept the offer. When I reached Khelgaon I saw that the venue was empty and there was no such program. On realising that I was tricked I felt that place to return home. On the way back, a truck rammed into my car so badly that the door of my car was broken into pieces. At that time there was a security person inside the car with me. He called up the police for help. When he explained the situation to the police, he got an answer in return that it would be impossible to catch the attackers as they would have fled by then”, recollected Rafia furthering: “I then asked them to check the CCTV footage for clues. The police said in return that all the CCTV cameras in that area were spoilt, hence it would be impossible to track the attackers as they would have fled far by then”.

As Rafia delved into the traumatic incidents, she admitted that she is now afraid to speak or take a stand for herself. Earlier if anything wrong happened, she used to raise her voice and fight for justice, but now it is not so. Rafia said: “I am not afraid for myself but I fear for my family. I have seen the real face of people. I have seen how people are on camera and how are off-camera. I have seen people selling themselves for a few bucks. So now I have become like this. Earlier I was not like this, these people have made me like this”.

Rafia Naz has been practicing Yoga since the age of 4

Rafia Naz’s interest in yoga can be gauged from the fact that she has been doing yoga since the age of 4. So far, he has won 52 medals at the national level in the field of yoga. Rafia was awarded the ‘National Patanjali Yoga Promoter Award’ at the International Yoga Festival in Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, the title of ‘Yogaprabha’ has been awarded at the All India Yoga Mahasammelan in Lucknow. She has been honoured by Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev.

Rafia Naz says that yoga is a means of connecting the soul with God. It has nothing to do with religion. Rafia has opened a school named ‘Yoga beyond religion’. In her institute, she teaches yoga to poor and orphaned children for free. Facing so much harassment and trauma in life, she has put up a brave face during all those episodes and has asserted that she will continue teaching yoga for life.

This is not the first time that Yoga has attracted opposition from certain sections for theological reasons. In 2018, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council has declared Yoga a spiritual discipline deeply rooted in Hinduism and asked its associate Churches to not practise as it is not compatible with Christianity.

In 2015, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) had declared that Yoga, along with Surya Namaskar, was not acceptable to Muslims and had appealed to secular forces to join their cause in opposing the “imposition” of Yoga by the Modi government.

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