India: Muslim group takes ‘dangerous bulldozer politics’ to court

Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind files plea in the Supreme Court after properties mainly belonging to Muslims are bulldozed in BJP-ruled states.

Protest against demolitions in India
A protester holds a placard which reads 'Stop bulldozers on Muslim lives and stand against hate crimes' during a protest at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar on Saturday [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]

New Delhi, India – A prominent Muslim organisation has filed a plea in India’s top court, urging its intervention as properties of mainly Muslims accused of violence are bulldozed by the authorities in states governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the dangerous politics of bulldozers that have been started to destroy minorities especially Muslims under the guise of crime prevention in BJP-ruled states,” the group’s president, Arshad Madani, tweeted on Monday.

The petition urges the top court to issue directions to the federal and state governments that “no lasting precipitative action be taken against any accused in any criminal proceedings” and that residential buildings not be demolished as a punitive measure.

Last week, authorities in at least two states demolished dozens of homes and shops, almost all of them belonging to Muslims accused of violence during a Hindu festival.

In the central state of Madhya Pradesh, violence broke out during the Ram Navmi festival earlier this month.

Hindu devotees usually take out large processions on the day to celebrate the birth of their god Ram.

However, the processions this year saw saffron-clad Hindu men carrying swords, sticks and pistols as they marched through mainly Muslim neighbourhoods, raising slogans threatening genocide of the community, playing loud music outside mosques, and attacking homes and shops belonging to Muslims.

In some places, stones were pelted, leading to violence between the two communities, as both sides blamed the other for starting it. At least two people died in the clashes.

India protest over demolition
Protesters hold placards during a vigil against anti-Muslim violence in India, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]

In Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh, violence erupted after nearly 10 houses and a mosque were set on fire during the Ram Navmi procession, forcing the police to impose a curfew. Violence was also reported from other Indian states during the festival.

A day later, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the “rioters have been identified” while the state’s home minister blamed Muslims for the violence.

“Those who have pelted stones will be punished but along with it they will be made to pay for the losses to both public and private properties,” Chouhan said.

Acting on cue from the top state leader, authorities in Khargone used bulldozers to demolish nearly 50 properties – most of them belonging to Muslims accused of inciting violence.

Similar demolitions were also reported from Modi’s home state of Gujarat following violence on Ram Navmi.

“The Madhya Pradesh government is only demolishing those structures which were erected over government lands. And if anybody feels that the law was violated, they are open to going to court,” BJP politician in Madhya Pradesh, Rajneesh Agarwal, told Al Jazeera on Monday.

But rights groups and legal experts have questioned the legality of the demolitions.

In a statement last week, Amnesty International said the demolitions “amount to collective punishment” of the minority community and called for a “thorough, impartial and transparent investigation” into the matter.

In its petition before the Supreme Court, the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind said the policy of using bulldozers has been “started to destroy minorities, especially Muslims, under the guise of crime prevention in BJP-ruled states”.

“The governments are doing what the courts used to do. It seems the rule of law in India is over now,” a statement released by the Muslim organisation said.

Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover said demolishing the property of a person accused of violence was “totally unconstitutional and illegal”.

“Actually there is no law which permits this kind of demolition. This person [accused] is a suspect at this juncture. The police or the administration is behaving like the judge, jury and the executor and is punishing the person,” she told Al Jazeera.

Majeed Memon, former parliamentarian and top criminal lawyer, agreed.

“Even if assuming that somebody has done some crime of rioting or any other crime, the chief minister or any of the persons from the administration has no right to punish,” he told Al Jazeera.

Memon said an accused should be presented before a court of law. “Ultimately it is the court that will decide the nature and quantum of punishment,” he said.

“This kind of so-called instant justice is similar to mob lynching.”

‘Bulldozer Mama’

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Chouhan is popular in his state as “Mama” (maternal uncle).

Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, chief minister of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh [File: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

However, he is now being called “Bulldozer Mama” by his supporters – a play on “Bulldozer Baba” that his counterpart Yogi Adityanath is referred to as in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Adityanath’s government is accused of demolishing dozens of homes and businesses belonging to Muslims in Uttar Pradesh in what activists have called a “selective targeting” of those accused by the police of criminal activities.

“The houses of poor people were burned in Khargone. They should not worry as ‘Mama’ will build their houses. We will recover from those who burned their houses,” Chouhan was quoted as saying by ANI news agency during a rally in state capital Bhopal on Thursday.

Last month, a billboard came up in Bhopal that said: “Anyone who dares fool around with the honour of sisters and daughters, the bulldozer will reach his door. Whoever tries to be a deterrent in the security of daughters, Mama’s bulldozer will be the hammer.”

In its statement, Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind called the demolitions a “cruel act”.

“It is noteworthy that the politics of bulldozers is already going on in Uttar Pradesh, but now this nefarious act has started in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh as well,” it said.

New Delhi-based academic and activist Apoorvaanand said there is an “internal competition within the BJP” and its various chief ministers on “who is more virulent than the others”.

“They [masses] want instant justice. This is the base instinct the BJP is appealing to and they are destroying the very idea of law and justice,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is the end of the rule of law which is most worrisome.”

Kashif Kakvi contributed to this report from Madhya Pradesh, India

Source: Al Jazeera