India: Hundreds of protesters in New Delhi halt demolition in Muslim neighbourhood
No buildings were razed down before the bulldozers retreated.
Anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks have risen across India in the past month, including stone-throwing between Hindu and Muslim groups during religious processions, followed by demolition drives in a few states where many Muslim-owned properties were razed down by local authorities.
This was most recently seen last month in a northwest neighbourhood in New Delhi where bulldozers destroyed several Muslim properties before the Supreme Court halted the drive. The demolitions were carried out days after communal violence there left several injured and sparked arrests.
Amid heavy police presence on Monday, bulldozers arrived in Shaheen Bagh, a neighbourhood that in 2020 became a site of intense protest after the Parliament passed a controversial bill the previous year that amended the country's citizenship law. The new law would fast-track naturalisation for persecuted religious minorities from some neighbouring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims, sparking many to call it discriminatory.
It unleashed months of demonstrations from across India and Shaheen Bagh quickly became a symbol of the resistance, with the protests there led by a peaceful sit-in by Muslim women along a highway that passed through the neighbourhood.
Officials said these demolition drives target illegal buildings and not any particular religious group. But critics argue such moves are the latest attempt to harass and marginalise Muslims, who are 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population and point to a pattern of rising religious polarisation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
As the bulldozers drove away, Mohammed Niyaz, a 47-year-old resident in the neighbourhood, called it “vote-bank politics” intended to divide the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Residents in Shaheen Bagh also questioned the timing of the move to bring in bulldozers, saying many buildings in the neighbourhood have existed for decades with no interference from local authorities.
Previously, officials termed the recent demolition drives as “routine exercises” to bring down illegal properties.