It was a regular morning in New Delhi’s Jahangirpuri until a few hours after they began fasting, the residents were jolted awake by the sound of bulldozer wrecking their shops and stalls.
Sabina Bibi, a 24-year-old resident went out to check what the chaos was all about when she saw a bulldozer approaching her house. Her small stall outside, where she sold paan and cigarettes, was demolished. The only source of income was gone.
“We were not even warned to at least collect our things before the demolition,” said Sabina. “No prior notice was sent.”
Being criticized as ‘bulldozer politics’ or ‘bulldozer raj’ by many, the current use of bulldozers on the shops and houses of those accused of instigating communal violence in BJP-ruled states is now becoming a symbol of BJP’s open disparity against the minority Muslim community in India.
During Yogi Adityanath’s first stint as Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister of the BJP-led government, bulldozers were widely used to allegedly raze ‘illegal’ houses and businesses. Soon, Adityanath famously came to be known as “Bulldozer Baba”. This year, his counterparts in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat decided to follow in his footsteps when similar demolitions were carried out in these states.
The demolition drive on April 20 in Jahangirpuri, during which a mosque was also damaged, continued for about three hours despite the Supreme Court ordering a stay. The demolition that was a result of communal violence that broke out on April 16 during the Hanuman Jayanti rally, a celebration of Hindu God Hanuman’s birth, left many families without any source of income.
However, this was not the first demolition drive of Muslim houses and stalls in India. On April 12, two days after the communal violence that broke out at the Ram Navami rally, a celebration of Hindu God Ram’s birth, a demolition drive was carried out in the Khargone region of Madhya Pradesh.
On Tuesday, civic authorities once again started a demolition drive in the Himmatnagar city of Gujarat, where a communal clash had broken out during the Ram Navami celebration earlier this month. Earlier, the administration had carried out a demolition drive using bulldozers to remove structures owned by people allegedly involved in the violence in Khambhat town there during the Ram Navami celebration.
In less than three hours, several shops in Jahangirpuri and in Gujarat were reduced to rubble by the bulldozers amid scenes of people begging for the demolition to be stopped. Earlier in Khargone, the administration razed about 16 houses and 29 shops.
On April 24, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took out foot marches in New Delhi against BJP’s “bulldozer politics” and asked people to not get “intimidated and threatened” by the BJP’s “gunda raj and Corruption”.
‘We are scared now’
About ten minutes were left till Iftar on the evening of April 16, when a mosque in Jahangirpuri was attacked by mobs. “They were shouting the slogans of Jai Shree Ram. They damaged the walls and windows of the mosque,” said Sabina.
When the Muslim residents went out to stop the mob from damaging the mosque, Sabina said that men and women were beaten badly. “It is not like someone will come and start beating us and we won’t do anything,” she said.
“We don’t have anyone. Even the authorities are with them.”
Soon, at least 25 people, mostly Muslim men, were arrested. Later, BJP demanded a probe into the role of “illegal migrants” in the violence, alleging that Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslim migrants had started the violence.
“My husband ran away that day because he was scared. I don’t know where and how he is. Police arrested men without any fault of theirs,” said Sabina. “The reason is why should a Muslim resist. Even if we are beaten to death, we shouldn’t say a word in response.”
After the attack was over, rumours of an upcoming demolition started spreading, however, Sabina paid no heed and moved on till the rumour turned out to be true.
She earned about 300 rupees every day from the food stall outside her house. Her husband, a junk dealer, mostly remained home due to his habit of drinking alcohol.
“I used to feed my two daughters with whatever I earned through the business. Now we are waiting for someone to even give us food,” she said, adding that the walls of her house were completely damaged during the demolition.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, one of the largest socio-religious organizations of Indian Muslims filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the demolitions in various BJP-ruled states, terming it a ploy to target minorities, especially Muslims.
Niaz Faruqui, Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind told Maktoob that the organization moved to the Supreme Court as the demolitions were not done following a proper procedure. “They should have at least sent notices to people before starting the demolition under the municipal act but they didn’t do that,” he said. “We felt that it was a clear case of targeting a community.”
While a stay was ordered by the Supreme Court after the first appearance, Faruqui said that the Supreme Court directed that the status quo be maintained and listed the matter for further hearing on May 9.
“Our aim is to stop the targeting of the community through riots and the use of bulldozers. And if at all the demolitions have to be carried out, the law should be followed,” said Faruqui.
“We also want to ask for compensation.”
Denial of rights
Aakar Patel, the chair of Amnesty International India said that since 2014, there have been laws and policies that have targeted Indian Muslims.
“Whether it removing democracy from Kashmir or denial of habeas corpus to Kashmiris who remain in jail, denial of media freedom to Kashmiris through media policy 2020, denial of namaz to Muslims in the national capital region where they had an allocated space taken away from them, whether it is hijab ban or beef ban,” Patel told Maktoob.
“These demolitions come in the background of all these things.”
The action in Jahangirpuri follows the BJP’s promotion of violence by taking mobs out in Muslim areas, said Patel. “BJP took this action in Delhi without any kind of legal sanction and defied even the Supreme court’s stay,” he said.
Patel said that the biggest impact of the demolitions is the denial of homes and property to those whose properties have been demolished.
“They have not been given the right to respond to a notice. They haven’t been given any kind of access to justice before the bulldozer was called,” he added.
“This is targeted and aimed at Muslims to intimidate, harass and brutalize them.”