Representative image. Demolition underway in Khori Gaon in Haryana’s Faridabad. Photo: Twitter/@leenadhankhar

By Aakar Patel

The demolitions in Uttarakhand last week, after which five people were killed in violence, follows a pattern that we see in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states. The pattern is of course that the government goes after citizens, especially Muslims. The demolitions are carried out as a form of extra-judicial punishment by the municipal authorities and the police, whether after episodes of communal violence or protests against discrimination.

The pattern has been documented in reports like “Routes of Wrath: Weaponising religious processions” by the Citizens and Lawyers Initiative. In his foreword, former Supreme Court Justice Rohinton F. Nariman says the report corroborates the findings (of decline in Indian democratic values), adding: “It finds that in nine states, during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti celebrations in April 2022, there were widespread acts of hooliganism and violence.” After this, the JCBs came out.

A report by Amnesty International, of which I am India chair, has found similar patterns of people made homeless and deprived of livelihoods. These individuals were subjected to forced evictions, intimidation and unlawful force by the police and collective and arbitrary punishment, which undermined their rights to non-discrimination, adequate housing, and a fair trial. Muslim-concentrated localities were either chosen or Muslim-owned properties selectively targeted in diverse areas for demolitions.

Adjacent or nearby Hindu-owned properties that also allegedly encroached on public land, particularly in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, were left untouched. The Indian state’s rationalisation of carrying out arbitrary demolitions to remove illegal encroachment sits in contrast to the reality of the country where the implementation of building laws sees lack of enforcement, that has led to a lot of construction without requisite permissions. In 2017, a report by a panel formed by the Delhi high court to document “illegal constructions” in the capital region found “90 per cent (of buildings) carry one kind of violation of the building bylaws or another”.

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