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Unlawful demolition of Muslim property is India’s new norm

25th Nov 2022
Unlawful demolition of Muslim property is India’s new norm

On June 13, protesters demonstrate against the demolition of the home of a Muslim leader in Prayagraj, New Delhi (Credit: Amarjeet K Singh/Anadolu Agency)

Shauqueen Mizaj

Demolition of Muslim properties without notice for alleged crimes such as ‘instigation of riots,’ has been a norm in India for some time. The latest mass demolition, on October 21, saw the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Delhi police bulldoze 25 houses in Delhi’s predominantly Muslim Kharak Riwara Satbari area.

The incident took place as residents commuted for Friday prayers. The officials reportedly claimed that the land belonged to a private dealer company. Residents whose properties were demolished were not given adequate time to remove their possessions.

The DDA officials also failed to present court orders to carry out the demolitions when the residents demanded. According to The Wire, when the protests began, the police resorted to baton charges, injuring several people, including women.

According to the victims, the male officers even manhandled the female protestors. Most of the residents of the Kharak-Satbari region belong to working-class communities, engaging in domestic and construction work or running small businesses. The residents whose houses have been demolished have yet to be rehabilitated.

Aam Aadmi Party politician Kartar Singh Tanwar, a former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader now representing New Delhi’s Chhatarpur constituency in the Legislative Assembly, refused to intervene during the demolition drive.

The DDA officials threatened to return with bulldozers after Diwali, the Hindu festival, and demolish more homes. According to reports, the police told Muslim residents that they faced the same fate as Muslims in the state of Uttar Pradesh under the infamous Yogi Adityanath government, which introduced a policy of bulldozing the houses of all crime suspects.

The demolition drive was mainly targeted at Muslims in that state.
According to the government, the demolition drives are aimed at removing ‘illegal encroachments’ in the capital. The

BJP governments in other states, such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, also followed suit, with dozens of Muslim properties bulldozed in broad daylight. As far as Muslims in the country are concerned, these ‘anti-encroachment’ drives, initiated against them for whatever reason, are part of the government’s agenda to destabilise them.

The demolitions follow the Hindu-Muslim violence that erupted in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami, in April.

The Hindutva mobs passed through Muslim neighbourhoods brandishing swords, playing provocative music, and raising anti-Muslim slogans in front of mosques and houses owned by Muslims.

In the religious clashes that followed, houses, shops, and vehicles owned by Muslims were selectively targeted and destroyed. Over 95 people, mostly Muslims, were arrested allegedly for pelting stones at the procession and trying to disrupt the celebrations.

Less than 24 hours after the clashes, the district administration started a demolition drive on the pretext of demolishing ‘illegal, encroached establishments’, and razing down houses and shops owned by the Muslim community, citing their alleged involvement in the clashes.

This pattern of demolishing the houses and other properties of Muslims has gradually emerged across different states with the backing of government authorities. Even if a person is accused or convicted, demolition of his property as a penalty is not sanctioned by the country’s law.

However, the top BJP leaders justify the demolition drives. “If Muslims carry out such attacks, then they should not expect justice,” Narottam Mishra, the home minister of BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, told NDTV, one of India’s top news channels. “We will turn those homes into a pile of stones, from where stones were pelted,” he told the TV station.

On June 9, three UN Special Rapporteurs for Housing, Minority Issues, and Freedom of Religion wrote a joint letter to the Indian government strongly condemning arbitrary housing and property demolitions carried out by local governments in response to intercommunal clashes that occurred during and after religious processions in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, Anand, Gujarat, and Jehangirpuri, Delhi, in May and June.

According to Balakrishnan Rajagopal, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, “There are requirements of international law that when demolitions are carried out, notice is given. One of the reasons we’re giving notice is so that people who are in those homes have a chance to remove any valuables they have before bulldozers show up.

And also there are requirements that you don’t conduct the demolitions during, for example, rainy season or during very hot days or during a time when it would impose unnecessary distress – particularly if it is going to impose distress on vulnerable groups”, reported The Wire.

The pattern of demolition of houses led to writing a formal communication to the Indian government, says Rajagopal.

These actions by the government have had a ‘devastating impact on individuals, and their communities; it has disrupted their lives’ and also ‘caused immense privation and suffering’, he says.

He also pointed out the need for specific constitutional institutions like the National Commission for Minorities, which are supposed to protect the rights of minorities, to step up and respond to the violations of rights and adequately discharge their duties.

Muslims in India have increasingly been marginalised since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014.

Open calls for genocide, hate speech, attacks, and harassment against the minority community have become the norm, with the government passing several laws seen as anti-Muslim over the past few years. These controversial laws have already posed a threat to the secular fabric of the country.

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