Social Issues

India’s bulldozer punishment for riots accused amid rising sectarian violence

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Aug 11 (EFE).- In India, authorities summarily demolish the homes of people accused of riots, even if they have not been convicted – an emerging pattern that activists and lawyers say targets minorities, especially Muslims.

The latest example of the so-called “bulldozer politics” began last week, when a religious procession organized by a far-right Hindu group was allegedly attacked by Muslims in Nuh district in the northern Haryana state.

This gave way to a wave of violence in the state, including the killing of an imam and the burning of a mosque in the city of Gurugram, located on the outskirts of the Indian capital, Delhi, which left at least six people dead and dozens injured.

Haryana’s authorities responded by arresting more than 100 people but also by demolishing hundreds of allegedly illegal buildings belonging to the Muslim community, with the more or less explicit purpose of punishing the culprits, according to the administration’s version.

Lawyer Indira Jaising told EFE that the demolitions were nothing more than a form of violence directed against minorities.

“Many years ago in 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that there can be no eviction of pavement dwellers without notice. Years later we are reduced to a situation where people with built homes are facing demolition without procedure established by law,” she said.

The demolitions of hundreds of homes and shops belonging to Muslims in Nuh, a move praised by leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) such as Jawahar Yadav, were finally stopped by the courts.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court questioned whether this practice was “an exercise of ethnic cleansing is being conducted by the State.”

But Nuh is just one more instance of this relatively recent practice by Indian authorities.

In April 2022, New Delhi’s municipal authorities demolished dozens of shops and structures in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of the capital, including part of a mosque.

Demolitions have also been carried out in the central Madhya Pradesh state after outbreaks of ethnic violence as well as in the northern Uttar Pradesh for participating in protests against comments about Prophet Mohammad by members of the BJP.

“In a country where there should be uniform application of the law, the authorities are acting inappropriately and using summary measures now, bypassing due process to punish groups of people,” Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, told EFE.

The bulldozer has now become a threat to entire communities because of the actions of some of its members, but according to Ganguly this situation affects minorities such as Muslims.

“There are many ways in which we find that there is a bias in the criminal system, where government critics and those that protest or religious minorities seem to be being treated differently under that same law as compared to people that are so-called government supporters,” she said.

HRW has denounced other incidents of unlawful punishment, such as the public flogging by a police officer of several Muslim men in the western state of Gujarat in October last year after several people were arrested for pelting stones at a Hindu celebration.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government also resorted to demolitions to make people pay for damages caused during protests in 2019 against a new law that grants citizenship to immigrants from neighboring countries but excludes Muslims.

Subsequently, the country’s top court directed the state government to withdraw the 274 notices issued to the protesters and refund any money taken from them.

“What happens to compensation if the court finds that these were illegal actions? Someone has to be held accountable,” Ganguly said. EFE


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