Outrage over 'bulldozer justice'

Many in India are condemning the growing instances of demolition of homes and businesses of Muslims, in what critics call a growing pattern of "bulldozer justice" aimed at punishing activists from the minority group.

From early this year, bulldozers have become an extrajudicial tool in the hands of ruling politicians, with the heavy machinery being deployed to demolish houses of those who have protested or are accused of rioting.

Houses, shops and small establishments have been bulldozed in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, disproportionately targeting Muslims.

On June 12, the authorities in Uttar Pradesh rode a bulldozer to raze the home of Mr Javed Ahmad, whom they claimed was connected to Muslim religious protests that turned violent on June 10. The police arrested Mr Ahmad on June 11.

The protests were sparked by derogatory remarks about Islam, made by two spokesmen of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The party suspended one and expelled the other, saying it "strongly denounces insults of any religious personalities".

Two of the people who protested died of gunshot injuries in clashes with the police on June 12 in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state.

Instances of protesters pelting the police with stone were also reported but Amnesty International said the authorities responded with "excessive use of force".

"The government of India is selectively and viciously cracking down on Muslims who dare to speak up and peacefully express their dissent against the discrimination faced by them," said Mr Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India Board.

In April, the authorities in New Delhi bulldozed Muslim-owned shops days after communal violence in which dozens were arrested. Similar incidents have been reported in other states.

"The demolitions are a gross violation of constitutional norms and ethics," Mr Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a specialist on Hindu nationalist politics, told The Associated Press.

On June 15, 12 prominent individuals including former Supreme Court and High Court judges and lawyers wrote to India's chief justice, urging him to hold a hearing on the demolitions, calling them "a form of collective extrajudicial punishment".

They accused the Uttar Pradesh government of suppressing dissent by using violence against protesters.

The authorities have argued that the demolished structures were illegal constructions or encroachments and that warnings had been issued, but critics said the bulldozers have targeted Muslims disproportionately.

In the case of Mr Ahmad, the authorities claimed the house was built illegally, which Mr Ahmad's lawyer and family denied.

"If the construction was illegal, why was no action taken earlier? Why did the government wait until the riot took place?" asked Mr Shaukat Ali of the political party All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.

The bulldozer has become "a very potent symbol" of the ruling party's readiness to mete out "justice" since the local elections in March in Uttar Pradesh, said Mr Ali Khan Mahmudabad, head of the political science department at Ashoka University.

But he said it has also become a symbol of fear for Muslims. "It's sending a message to those who raise their voice that they will have a very personal cost to pay. It's not just that you will get arrested or go to jail, but your entire family will suffer."

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a member of the ruling BJP, has been given the moniker Bulldozer Baba (Father).

Bulldozers featured prominently during his election campaign and were also rolled out for his victory parade.

On June 12, Mr Adityanath's media adviser tweeted a photo of a bulldozer and rubble, writing: "Remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday."

In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also has gone on a bulldozing spree, earning the nickname Bulldozer Mama (Uncle).

There, a person accused of rape had his home demolished in March on the order of local authorities, side-stepping the legal case against him.

Last month, the Supreme Court put a stop to ongoing demolition of homes and shops in Jahangirpuri, Delhi, where clashes between Hindus and Muslims had broken out.

Ms Vrinda Grover, a Supreme Court lawyer, said "bulldozer justice" was a contradiction in terms.

"The term justice here is completely misplaced," she said, adding that the local authorities were acting with "brazen impunity".

"What we are witnessing here is actually the complete and total demolition of rule of law."

Indo-Asian News Service, AFP

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