Indian government bulldozes scores of Muslim homes amid anger over Prophet remarks
For someone who had her home recently demolished, Afreen Fatima sure puts on a brave face.
Last week, the 24-year-old Indian activist’s house was one of a series of demolitions of Muslim properties carried out by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party across various states in India.
“My house was not razed to punish me or my family alone, but to make a statement to the entire [Muslim] community that you won’t be spared,” Afreen says with a discernible sense of calm.
"Many legal experts based out of the country have accused the government of circumventing the law in a bid to subjugate the country’s Muslim population"
While the authorities razed her house on the pretext of it being an “illegal structure”, the act is widely seen as a retributory measure by the government for protests carried out by the Muslim community against the insulting comments directed at Prophet Muhammad by BJP spokespersons.
Despite the BJP suspending its spokespeople, Muslim citizens in the country have continued to be treated severely. At least 2 Muslims have been killed by police, and hundreds have been arrested under stringent laws. Many houses of the Muslims have also been bulldozed for being “illegal properties”.
“How can our house be illegal if we have been paying taxes for the last 20 years? Our house was demolished because Muslims of the area protested. We weren't involved but even so, can’t Muslims in India protest?” Afreen asked.
The demolition of Afreen's house was preceded by demonstrations in many parts of India as well as in Prayagraj, a city in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Authorities accused her father Javed Mohammad of being the “mastermind” behind the protests in the city.
“My father is being attacked because he is an active member of the community and is vocal on the issues concerning the Muslims,” Afreen told The New Arab.
This is not a one-off affair. In the last few months, the ruling BJP party has bulldozed dozens of houses and shops belonging to the Muslim community across various Indian states in what it terms “anti-encroachment” drives. Experts are drawing parallels between these incidents to the punitive demolitions carried out by the Israeli state as collective punishment against Palestinians.
“The majority-minority relation was never perfect in India, but the process of it becoming an ethnic democracy like Israel has accelerated since 2014,” says Dr. Mohammad Reyaz, an academic and a keen observer of minority rights in India.
“The demolitions of houses and shops belonging to Muslims or other marginalised groups following protests or riots are but another marker of how India is evolving into a majoritarian democracy where legality is being used to target Muslims who have de facto become the second-class citizens although de jure they have equal rights,” added Reyaz, who is also an assistant professor of communications at Aliah University in the eastern state of West Bengal.
Extra judicial targeting of Muslims
Many legal experts based out of the country have accused the government of circumventing the law in a bid to subjugate the country’s Muslim population.
“This [demolishing Muslim homes] is completely illegal and outrageous. This is not how governments function. These are tactics of street-level goons. There is not a single law or legislation in our country that allows such blatant misuse of power,” says advocate Kamlesh Mishra, a lawyer based out of India’s national capital New Delhi.
“These demolitions have more to do with communal polarization that helps BJP to gain votes than with any law,” he added.
Property ownership in India, Reyaz explains, is a complex maze, and on the basis of legality, a large number of houses and commercial properties could be termed illegal but continue to exist. “However, that has been weaponised to what popular media has dubbed as ‘bulldozer rule,’ and signify muscular and vindictive politics as practised by Israel in the present era or have been in past by Nazi forces against Jews,” Reyaz said.
The New Arab reached out to one of the national spokespersons of the BJP for comment who said the party is yet to form an opinion on it, as the matter is “yet to be discussed”.
‘Anti-Muslim’ agenda of BJP
Critics of the Indian government view the new trend of demolishing Muslim properties as symptomatic of the ‘fascist’ policies of the ruling BJP.
Since Modi's election, the government has passed a host of controversial legislation viewed as discriminatory against Muslims.
Hate crimes against the minority community have also increased. Muslims have been lynched on the pretext of eating beef or smuggling cows- an animal venerated in the Hindu traditions.
There has also been an increase in open anti-Muslim statements made by government representatives and their allies in the country. Many Hindu priests and organisations aligned with the ruling BJP have openly called for the genocide of Muslims.
Human Rights experts have warned of genocide against the 200 million Muslims in the country.
"We believe that genocide could very well happen in India," Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch warned in a U.S. congressional briefing last year.
Hanan Zaffar is a journalist based in New Delhi and has written extensively on South Asian politics and minority issues
Hamaad Habibullah is a freelance writer based in New Delhi