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Hilal English

Demolition of Muslim Properties in India: A Weapon of Choice and State Policy

April 2024

As India moves towards elections this year and the ruling BJP is poised for its third term, the ongoing hate campaign against Muslims and the widespread impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such grave violations are serious causes for concern. This trend will further entrench India in the morass of discriminatory policies rooted in the Hindutva philosophy, with potential ripple effects far beyond its borders.

In India, widespread and unlawful demolition of Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship has now been going on with impunity for years. Instead of taking action to stop it, the federal and state governments are more often seen as sponsoring these inhuman activities. Five states were initially affected, namely Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Still, now this malice has spread to other states like Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), Haryana, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand.
Occasionally, international organizations have expressed concerns over these punitive actions as a weapon of choice and state policy in the hate campaign against minority Muslim populations. They have called upon the Indian government to ensure that nobody is made homeless as a result of forced evictions and offer adequate compensation to all those affected by demolitions. They have also asked the Indian government to hold to account all those responsible for these violations, but such pleas have mostly fallen on deaf ears. To add insult to injury, right-wing politicians and authorities in India have paddled this heartless and cruel retribution as 'bulldozer justice'.
The genesis of hatred against Muslims, of which the practice of demolition is an offshoot, goes back to ‘Ram Rath Yatra’ in 1990, which was a political and religious rally led by then Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP’s) President L. K. Advani and the party's Hindu nationalist affiliates and lasted from September to October. It eventually resulted in the tearing down of the centuries-old Babri Mosque in 1992 and seriously disturbed the Hindu-Muslim inter-faith relationship. The Rath Yatra helped BJP's electoral politics, pushing the more secular Congress Party to second place. The hawkish Narendra Modi was thrown up to the peak of political power in Delhi but not without irreversibly widening the Hindu-Muslim schism, which has deteriorated with the passage of time.
In recent years, the phenomenon of demolition has been so widespread that it has seeped into the corporate sector, where ubiquitous optics of JCB (Joseph Cyril Bamford, an internationally known company of construction and agricultural equipment) bulldozers are dragged into this unholy campaign. Narasimha, a BJP spokesperson, heartlessly referred to the manufacturer JCB as ‘Jihadi Control Board’. This prompted Amnesty International to call on the firm to fulfil its due diligence responsibilities and examine for what purpose its branded equipment is used.
A grotesque display of this mindset was witnessed when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, participated in a roadshow aboard a bulldozer in support of BJP candidate Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore from the Jhotwara constituency, ahead of the Rajasthan Assembly elections, with dozens of supporters perched atop the excavator's buckets and diggers arms. These spectacles are not only restricted to India's domestic scene but also raising its ugly head abroad. In August 2023, adorned with the faces of Modi and hardliner Hindutva minister Yogi Adityanath, led two India Day parades in New Jersey in the USA.

These demolitions are mostly carried out as a ‘punishment’ following episodes of communal violence or protests against discrimination by those in authority against Muslims who, in the process, are rendered homeless or deprived of their livelihood.

These demolitions are often carried out under the guise of remedying illegal construction and encroachment. They are undertaken without following the due process and safeguards outlined in domestic or international human rights law. State authorities have been enforcing demolitions and evictions without offering any prior consultation, adequate notice, or alternative resettlement opportunities.
Building destruction often occurs at night, with occupants given little or no time to leave their homes and shops, salvage their belongings, or appeal the demolition orders and seek legal redress. These demolitions are mostly carried out as a ‘punishment’ following episodes of communal violence or protests against discrimination by those in authority against Muslims who, in the process, are rendered homeless or deprived of their livelihood.
These forced eviction, intimidation and unlawful force by the police and collective and arbitrary punishment undermine their right to non-discrimination, adequate housing and a fair trial, as well as their rights to bodily integrity, freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and effective remedy, which are all enshrined in the Indian constitution. Such demolitions are also prohibited under international human rights laws and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which India is a state party, but then when has India ever cared to fulfil its international obligations?
In a typical and all-familiar pattern now, Muslim-concentrated localities are chosen for forced evictions and demolitions, while nearby Hindu-owned properties are left untouched. They mostly begin with intimidating chants of 'Jai Shri Ram', which whips up religious emotions and acts as a clarion call for Hindutva mobs and perpetrators to resort to violence and mob frenzy.
Indian media, under Modi's intimidating spell, has referred to these inhuman activities as 'bulldozer justice', describing the punitive destruction of homes and businesses as '(good) models of governance' by state authorities. It has chosen to ignore whether such demolitions were carried out by law or constitute unlawful discrimination against the Muslim community. As police authorities, municipal corporations, development authorities and revenue departments remain elusive from accountability, the Indian government is complicit in blocking access to justice and effective remedies for a significant segment of its population.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, participated in a roadshow aboard a bulldozer in support of BJP candidate Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore from the Jhotwara constituency, ahead of the Rajasthan Assembly elections, with dozens of supporters perched atop the excavator's buckets and diggers arms.

As India moves towards elections this year and the ruling BJP is poised for its third term, the ongoing hate campaign against Muslims and the widespread impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such grave violations is a serious cause for concern as it will dig India further into the morass of discriminative policies of Hindutva philosophy, which would have a ripple effect far beyond its borders. No gainsaying it will be unhelpful for any peace and stability in the region.
India under Modi is so obsessed with anti-Muslim hatred that five years ago, in February 2019, it enacted the Pulwama false flag operation in IIOJK in which 40 of its soldiers died in a major roadside explosion. This was later made an excuse to launch an aerial attack on Balakot in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. A swift and retributive response from Pakistan rubbed Indian hubris in the mud when two Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft were shot down, and a helicopter with five onboard fell victim to friendly fire. The Pulwama incident served well to deter Modi from any foolish misadventure before this year's election. Still, innocent Muslims in India are easy prey.
It is noteworthy to mention that since the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power in 2014, Hindu nationalism has come to dominate the Indian political landscape entirely. BJP is widely seen as the political wing of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a right-wing Hindu nationalist, paramilitary, volunteer, and militant organization, with right-wing Hindu nationalism at the center of its political agenda. Modi himself was an RSS member in his youth. The BJP openly prescribes to Hindutva but has downplayed its association with violence. It deceivingly masks this connection as a cultural agenda that promotes India's heritage and history.
India's constitution enshrines it as a secular democracy, but the BJP has consistently been pursuing a religiously divisive agenda, which seeks to transform India into a Hindu state. This has led to the rising tide of intolerance, communal violence, and targeting of Muslims; the BJP has routinely but unsuccessfully paddled the myth that Hindus in India are under threat from Muslims. It has been using population shifts, inter-faith marriages (derogatorily called ‘Love Jihad’), and immigration as an excuse for this propaganda. BJP has passed discriminatory laws around citizenship and marriages to promote Hindutva.
While domestically, India has generally been unsuccessful in spreading the falsehood that 20 percent of the Muslim population can in any way be a threat to 80 percent of Hindus. Ironically, it has been more successful abroad with its vast diaspora, especially in the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (U.S.) and Australia, mainly through the use of social media. The support of this diaspora has encouraged Hindutva groups and charities in the U.S. to indulge in undermining academic activity on some university campuses where India's Islamic history was the curriculum, which shattered the Hindutva’s poisonous narrative.
Why do neighbors get rattled when India tilts further and further towards Hindutva? The answer is quite simple–because this ideology has been associated with right-wing extremism and fascism due to racial elements of its philosophy and association with intolerance of minorities, in particular, its anti-Muslim sentiments and is not at all cautioned very aptly, 'Lage ge aag tu aayen ge ghar kai zad mein, Yahan pe sirf hamara makan thori hai’ (when the fire spreads uncontrollably, it doesn't spare anyone). 

The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of the Pakistan Navy. 
E-mail: [email protected]

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