By selectively targeting the country’s Muslims, the ruling far-right BJP appeases its core Hindu base.
Bulldozers are giant, ugly machines mounted on wheels that are used to bring down sturdy concrete structures with ease.
In a macabre twist, bulldozers in India are being used to demolish the country’s long-cherished ideals of religious harmony and peaceful co-existence.
Backed by the might of a state that is seemingly vindictive against the minority Muslim community and ungrudgingly executed by supine officials, bulldozers deployed across many parts of the country to raze properties are tearing apart India’s social fabric one brick at a time.
The template for the demolitions, as witnessed recently in the state of Madhya Pradesh and then this week in the capital Delhi, is vicious but quite straightforward.
First, bands of Hindu activists seeking the domination of their religion in a country of 1.4 billion and ideologically aligned with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, take to the streets in large numbers, ostensible to celebrate Hindu religious festivals.
In Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, they were out to mark Ram Navami, the birthday of the Hindu deity Lord Ram. In Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, the occasion was Hanuman Jayanti, the birthday of Hanuman, a god venerated across India.
But pious motives soon disappear with the processionists turning raucous and provoking local Muslims. To do so, they publicly brandish swords, knives, and in some cases, pistols, and raise incendiary slogans.
The din that is created with the purpose of rousing passions bears results when hot-heads among the Muslims respond. In some places, they pelted stones at the processions and triggered a riot.
The script then follows a pattern. The police come in, and right-wing politicians in power promise stern action to prove their might. This then is followed by the deployment of bulldozers that target shops and homes, predominantly those of Muslims.
The intent, those in power say, is pure, and aimed only at protecting law and order.
Hours after the demolition drive in Delhi, Baijayant “Jay” Panda, BJP’s national vice president, attempted to portray those at the receiving end as illegal immigrants. “India cannot allow them to carve out no-go areas as in many Western countries,” he said.
The police also portray the demolitions as a purely legal exercise to clear illegal encroachment on public land.
But the timing and the hasty manner of the bulldozer deployments are stark giveaways. Procedures laid down by laws are not followed and properties are being pulled down without serving their owners an advance notice. It robs them of the opportunity to prove the legality of their properties, if any exists.
They are also disdainfully deprived of livelihoods and shelter.
But then, the principal idea behind the demolitions is to portray the strength of those in power and “punish” the so-called rioters.
It helps the BJP appease its core Hindu base when those being punished turn out to be overwhelmingly Muslim.
Muslims, who account for some 14 percent of India’s population and are about 200 million in number, have been at the receiving end. There have been instances of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination in the past, but they have sharply intensified since Modi was first voted into power in 2014.
The Prime Minister and his party brazenly bat for the cause of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, meaning that Muslims find themselves increasingly under siege.
Several Muslim traders have been beaten to death by Hindu vigilantes, either on suspicion of trading in cattle or possessing beef. States, where the BJP is in power, have brought in laws banning the cattle trade because Hindus, who account for 80 percent of the Indian population, venerate the cow.
Though a majority by an overwhelmingly wide margin, Hindu activists claim their religion, customs and beliefs are under threat. Several states have therefore made laws discouraging interfaith marriages – particularly Muslim men taking Hindu wives.
In recent months, the assault widened further with Karnataka in India’s south banning students from wearing the hijab, the Muslim headscarf. There is now a campaign against halal, the process of certifying food products under Islamic traditions, and against Muslim mango sellers.
The bulldozer’s selective targeting of Muslims fits into a narrative that the ruling BJP wants to be propagated. Many, including Rahul Gandhi of the opposition Congress party, find it heart-breaking and abhorrent.
“It is hatred and terror that are riding on BJP’s bulldozers,” Gandhi recently said.
It was terrifying indeed when the bulldozers came to raze the home of Haseena Fakhru, a widow living with her son in Khargone. Ironically, the house she lived in was built with financial assistance from Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – a flagship government fund run in the name of the prime minister.
Given that the house was built with government assistance, Fakhru believed it had all the legal approval. Yet, her house was demolished and Fakhru was left desolate.
Equally stumped was Wasim Sheikh, a former painter who lost both his hands in an accident years ago. When the bulldozers came to punish the stone pelters of Khargone, his shop was targeted. That he did not have hands to pelt stones failed to deter the officials.
The larger message that the demolitions help to drive home is loud and clear.
It was Yogi Adityanath, the ochre-dressed monk and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who first publicised the so-called virtues of the bulldozer.
Known to have used strong-arm methods against political opponents, including seizing their properties, Adityanath told voters before the recently-concluded state elections, that he resoundingly won, about his plans to use bulldozers extensively.
It earned him the moniker “Bulldozer Baba” (Bulldozer Monk).
His victory at the elections showed that the voters, predominantly Hindus, approved of his muscular tactics, and BJP leaders of other states are now competing to copy him.
Meanwhile, one minister of Madhya Pradesh has proudly posed for photographs alongside a bulldozer.
Addressed locally as mama (uncle), the state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is now being fondly called “Bulldozer Mama” by his followers.
With the ruling BJP standing to gain so much in the immediate term, Indian Muslims are unlikely to be shown any mercy any time soon.
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