Demolitions at Mumbai’s Mira Road: ‘You Throw a Stone at Me, I’ll Demolish Your House’

Bulldozers have of late become a vehicle of injustice in India. Muslims and Dalits are mainly facing the brunt of ‘bulldozer justice’.
Demolitions at Mumbai’s Mira Road: ‘You Throw a Stone at Me, I’ll Demolish Your House’

New Delhi: Invented over a century ago, bulldozers have been used across the world to build residential buildings, offices, roads, etc. But in India, these days, it has emerged as a new tool to destroy the homes and livelihoods of the marginalized communities - especially Muslims.

The excavator actions are more visible in the states where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power.  

The latest outing of the machine was witnessed at Mira Road - an area in the far north of Mumbai - where at 15 structures belonging to Muslims were razed to the ground a day after a procession of bikes and cars, with its occupants chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’, allegedly came under attack while passing through the neighbourhood hours before the consecration ceremony of Ram temple in Ayodhya began on January 22. 

In retaliation, the Hindutva groups - armed with swords, bicycle chains and sticks - vented out their anger by attacking the residents of the neighbourhood and their properties. 

The very next day, January 23, the Mira Bhayander-Municipal Corporation demolished 15 structures, belonging to Muslims, at Haidary Chowk where communal tensions were reported. 

Many call it a “punitive” action, which is discriminatory to teach members of the minority community a lesson. 

Akar Patel, chairperson of the board at Amnesty International India, said in a statement that “the impunity with which the authorities have been enforcing their discriminatory de facto policy of arbitrarily and punitively demolishing Muslim properties, following episodes of communal violence” is alarming.

“Such unlawful actions against people suspected of violence, allegedly without notice or other due process requirements is a major blow to the rule of law,” he said. 

However, the deputy commissioner of the municipal body, Maruti Gaikwad, denied the allegation of bias - saying that the structures were demolished because they were built on “footpath and nullah”.  

Termed as ‘Bulldozer Justice’, the action has been widely criticised - with critics arguing that “such official action is often carried out under the cover of the thinnest veneer of illegality” and that “it is in violation of the very spirit of law”.

Calling it a “mockery of the Constitution”, at least three former judges of the Supreme Court and six senior lawyers - in a rare move - have already written to the Chief Justice of India that bulldozer actions by state authorities soon after the occurrence of a crime or violence is “unacceptable subversion of the rule of law”.

Talking to The Mooknayak, Justice AP Shah, ex-chief justice of the Delhi High Court, categorically said, “There is no law in the Indian statute book that empowers the state to destroy the properties of a person simply on the suspicion of committing a crime.”

“Mere alleged involvement of an individual in a criminal activity cannot ever be the grounds for demolition of property,” he said, adding that even if it is proven by the court that a person has committed a crime, the Constitution and law have established elaborate procedure to protect his or her rights. 

“This too has been casually set aside,” he concluded.   

Eminent lawyer Kapil Sibal, also a former union minister, in one of his strongly-worded columns published in The Indian Express said, “...a bulldozer has no relevance to illegal structure, but has relevance to who I am and what I stand for”.

“It has relevance to what I say in public. It has relevance to my beliefs, my community, my being, my religion. It has relevance to my voice of dissent. When a bulldozer razes my home to the ground, it seeks to demolish not just the structure I built, but my courage to speak up,” he wrote.

The bulldozer actions have been challenged in the apex court, which instead of acting tough merely observed “their use has to be in accordance with law and could not be retaliationary”.

Ironically, bulldozers have of late been hailed by the majority community who view it as a new tool of swift ‘justice’. Waving little toy bulldozers has become a common sight in election rallies and roadshows of the BJP. 

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is credited with bringing the earth moving extrajudicial equipment into the political lexon of Uttar Pradesh and further across the country as a power statement against alleged rioters and criminals.

Bulldozer action was first initiated five years ago against notorious criminal Vikas Dubey, who was accused of killing eight policemen, and then gangster-turned- politician Mukhtar Ansari.

The video footage of the demolitions were televised with much fanfare that helped the government win admiration for taking strong action, which may serve as a detrent, against law breakers.

“This gradually turned out to be a tactic to intimidate the government’s critics, especially Muslims,” said senior journalist Alok Joshi.

Another senior journalist Sharat Pradhan alleged bulldozers have transformed from a symbol of “firm administration” into a “potent weapon to cement the hate politics against Muslims”, overriding the law of the land.

“It’s like”, he said, “if you throw a stone at me, I will demolish your home. Your entire family will be taught a lesson”.

“There is no such provision in the law of the land. If a member of a family commits a crime, can you hand or punish his entire family? Governments in the BJP-ruled states are acting as a judge, jury, prosecutor and executioner,” he added.

Rights activist Nadeem Khan, who is associated with the Association of Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), said bulldozer justice is a new term. “But it is actually an injustice. If this goes on, all the courts of the nation must be locked down.”

Such forms of justice are always reserved for a certain section of citizens, he too reiterated, saying one would hardly see a big house with world-class amenities facing government-sanctioned demolition.

“If you look at the list of such demolitions, you will find out that the consequences are harsher for the section of population who are generally not considered to be traditional voters of the BJP. Certain castes within the Dalit and Bahujan groups and Muslims are victims of this travesty of justice,” he said.

Highlighting a general trend, he said, many demolitions take place over weekends - strategically timed when courts are closed so that affected individuals cannot approach the judiciary and get a relief. 

“Even if a stay order is passed, demolitions continue. It is posing a grave threat to constitutional principles. Punishment before due process undermines the judiciary’s role. Engaging in unconstitutional measures for instant justice, solely to satisfy certain groups, is a sheer disrespect to the rule of law and the Constitution of the country,” he added.

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