The illegal demolition of prominent student leader and activist, Afreen Fatima’s house in Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad), without any order by the court, or the pronouncement of a verdict against the residents by the Uttar Pradesh government, is, undoubtedly, an act of vengeance against Indian Muslims, who stood up to protest against insulting remarks against prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), by Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal—spokespeople of the militant-nationalist, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Fatima was also prominent during the widespread protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which has been labelled as being “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” against Indian Muslims, by the United Nations. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case.
How Are Targeted Demolitions Legal?
In the past few weeks, India’s right-wing government, and its governments in the states, have used illegal demolitions against Muslims all over the northern part of the country.
These actions are by no means justified under Indian law, and are yet another example of the blatant discrimination and oppression faced by India’s more than 200 million strong Muslim minority.
This is in line with the BJP’s Hindutva ideology that seeks to reduce Muslims to second-grade citizens, while strengthening majoritarian rule and concentrating power in the hands of a select few. Through these demolitions, it seeks to silence, as well as financially destroy not just the Muslim community, but anyone who comes out against government policies.
Indian authorities have been conducting illegal demolitions of properties belonging to Muslims, including homes, businesses and mosques, in a clearly despotic manner. These demolitions fail to follow the due process, flout countless rules and are by no means sanctioned by law.
In contrast, they seek to arbitrarily punish a single community, by destroying their residences and businesses. Those whose houses are demolished are labelled as “anti-social elements”, and excavators are used, along with heavy police presence, often in riot gear, to carry out demolition drives, often wiping out entire clusters of houses, as seen in the drive in Jahangirpuri by the Delhi Police.
Fatal Blow To Muslims And Their Financial Security
Furthermore, the act of demolishing a house without following the due process prescribed by the law is a violation of the right to adequate housing, which is enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In certain cases, it is claimed that these houses flouted residential and housing norms. These actions seek to punish not only those who are against, or present a threat to the ruling establishment, but also deal a fatal blow to their families.
The selective destruction of property deemed in violation of municipal regulations makes it clear that this is not meant to punish those flouting the law, but rather punish those with a certain religious identity by preventing them from leading peaceful lives and achieving financial security.
The destruction is followed by vicious attacks by journalists, combined with media trials, labelling those who saw a major part of their lives being destroyed moments later as traitors, illegal immigrants, or, in the words of India’s Minister for Home Affairs, “termites”.
Why Is The Judiciary Still Silent?
The evidence is either flimsy, such as posters with political slogans, or a research article from a Pakistani author, or, in most of the cases, non-existent.
There is no support from the judiciary, as it is either silent on these matters, or takes action that is inadequate, and too late. It is time our judges understand that the continuation of such autocratic behaviour makes their own jobs redundant, as the government becomes the dispenser of justice, and does an awfully bad job of it.
It appears like the Indian government has borrowed these tactics straight from the Israeli playbook, which uses demolitions of homes to forcibly remove Palestinians and build Jewish settlements on their lands.
With the methods of the Indian government looking more and more like those used to enable and further apartheid in Palestine, it is no surprise that the nations are getting along so well, and making advances in a number of sectors, particularly arms trade.
Indian State Is Copying Israeli Tactics
It was in 2015, merely a year after the Narendra Modi government assumed power, when 75 officers from the Indian Police Service visited Israel to learn from the Israelis about “counter-insurgency, managing low intensity warfare and use of technology in policing and countering terror”.
The fact that many of the crimes that Israeli authorities commit against Palestinians are being emulated in India, such as the use of live bullets against peaceful protestors, attacking journalists, and large-scale deployment of riot control gear against non-violent demonstrations, is no coincidence.
It must also be noted that Indian security forces stationed in Indian administered Kashmir routinely destroy the houses of Kashmiris during and after encounters with suspected militants, labelling the residents as militant sympathisers and anti-India elements. This has been taking place before the BJP came to power in the centre.
Muslim communities have become an easy target for the government. They have been abused, slandered and attacked for the past eight years. They have been facing criticism, discrimination and violence for what they wear, what they eat, how they conduct their businesses and how they live.
Indian Muslims Have Been Othered, Time And Again
They have been labelled as the “other”, and face what can only be described as the process of a genocide that is already underway. There is no doubt that the major portion of the electorate supports this othering, as they vote for the same party time and again, giving them the mandate to conduct their dirty business.
Rather than becoming a symbol of security, the police in India has become yet another problem for Muslims. Donning bullet proof jackets and cricket helmets, and carrying assault rifles and batons, policemen are pictured not as those tasked with the enforcement of the law, but rather as the first ones to break it.
The BJP government has readily used the police forces at its dispense to attack and kill Muslims. Hindus associated with the ruling party can brandish swords and attack Muslim areas with impunity, but a
demonstration by Muslims is shot at.
Currently, Muslims face problems in living in areas populated by non-Muslims, despite the emergence of a middle class that has the financial resources to do so. According to the Pew Research Center, one in three Hindus will not be willing to accept a Muslim neighbour.
Muslims Have Been Ghettoised In Major Cities
In metropolitan cities, the situation is worse, with many landlords straight out refusing to accept Muslim tenants. Decades of communal violence, combined with the inability to find places in other localities, has culminated in Muslims facing rampant ghettoisation.
Mumbai’s Shivaji Nagar and Ahmedabad’s Juhapura are prominent examples of how Muslims are segregated in India’s largest cities, living in old, dilapidated communities.
Many major Indian cities have Muslim ghettos because others are unwilling to rent out flats to them. Representational image. Photo credit: Flickr.
This makes it easier for the authorities to launch crackdowns and orchestrate attacks on Muslims, as they are concentrated in certain areas, “mini-Pakistans”, as they are often called.
The Indian public has been desensitised, and large sections are seen cheering on while their fellow countrymen face the entire might of the government machinery controlled by a right-wing ultra-nationalist party, and the paramilitaries it finances and supports.
Is Every Person Equal Before The Law?
What is left for a community to do after you go after their houses, means of livelihood and lives, question their loyalty to their country, accuse them of being terrorists on national television, call them insects, and fail to provide them with the rights guaranteed to them by the law of the land?
Actions like these have the ability to rapidly erode the legal process in the country, and reduce institutions of democracy and justice to skeletons of their former selves.
If the government is allowed to uproot entire neighbourhoods on a whimsical basis, then there is no role of the court and the constitution. Even as they face a direct attack on their authority and power, the courts maintain a deafening silence.
The opposition, on the other hand, is incompetent, and in many cases, invisible. If this continues to be the case, there is nothing stopping the government from deploying police all over the country, armed with weapons of war, ready to shoot every skull-cap wearing man they see, to stand guard as entire communities are razed to the ground, and with them, the spirit of Indian democracy.