The Bulldozers Destroyed A Lot More Than Property

The bulldozers in Jahangirpuri, which flattened shops, the front portion of a masjid and destroyed the livelihood of scores of people, have temporarily been stopped by the just intervention of the Supreme Court. The arguments of justification by the Solicitor General in court after the demolition were quite revealing of the attitude of the central government:

(1) The demolition was not related to the April 16 communal clashes and it was a common practice to remove encroachments (2) It was not communally or selectively motivated since Hindu-run shops were also demolished (3) It was not illegal because notices had been given to some and the rest did not require notice.

It is not my purpose to discuss matters that are before the court, in a case in which I too, along with others, am a petitioner. But outside the court case, there is life.

Hundreds of people are affected by the events. My party and I have been finding out the facts with a view to extending assistance and relief where required and ensuring justice regardless of the community involved. We stand for punishment to all those guilty of the clashes, in a fair and just manner.

I am personally familiar with Jahangirpuri from when it was established 40 years ago. During the Emergency, lakhs of jhuggis were demolished in the name of beautification of the capital and most of the affected were “resettled” in huge tracts of barren land on what were then the edges of the city.

Among them were hundreds of Bengali Muslims from Midnapur, Dinajpur and a few other districts of West Bengal who were living in jhuggis on the sides of the Yamuna. They were shifted to Jahangirpuri by the then government. Most of them were given pattas in C-block, the epicentre of the clashes.

In most of the lanes in this block, the residents are mainly Muslim. Therefore, when I heard that they were being described as Rohingya and Bangladeshis by BJP leaders, I knew this was the BJP’s lie manufacturing factory at work.

Instead of a factual counter to this, the leaders of AAP, which runs the Delhi government, fed into the BJP’s justification, with the addition that it was the BJP which had “settled” the Rohingya and Bangladeshis in the area.

So, for both the BJP and AAP, those whose livelihood was bulldozed on April 20 were illegal immigrants so there was nothing wrong with the bulldozing. This false narrative from both these parties is to justify the inhuman attack on poor people who belong mainly to the Muslim community. They are bonafide Indian citizens. But there is another question – even assuming what they say is true, is this the way human beings are to be treated?

The second important point is that Jahangirpuri, and C block, have never witnessed any kind of communal incident in all these years.

I remember in the terrible floods that inundated Delhi in September 1978, Jahangirpuri was the first affected. C block, which is a low-lying area, was devastated.
I was working in the textile trade union in North Delhi at the time and many workers of the mills and industrial units were affected. We had set up a relief camp and volunteers from all over Delhi came to help. Hundreds of Jahangirpuri residents, both Hindu and Muslim, helped each other in that time of distress. That was four decades ago.

Again in 1984, after the anti-Sikh violence, hundreds of Sikh families, terrorised and rendered homeless, were resettled in block A. They never faced a problem. Residents of different communities whom our teams met in the last week expressed themselves in a way that showed that spirit was still alive.

But then why did violence erupt here on April 16? The media has reported it in various ways. But the dominating version is that put out by the BJP, which is that on Hanuman Jayanti, a procession of Hindus was attacked when it was crossing C Block and stones were pelted at them. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal issued a statement condemning the “stone-pelters.” The Delhi Police followed this up by arresting 27 people and, in the first list put out by them, all 14 arrested were Muslims. Thus, the general impression all over India is that a procession taken out on the occasion of a Hindu festival was attacked by Muslims.

We have found this an entirely one-sided version, a cover to hide the truth.

There were three processions that day. Two of them were mainly organised by residents of different blocks. The organisers told our teams that they had applied for permission in March and the police had given them the routes they were to follow. There were no problems faced by either of these processions. They went according to the decided routes, escorted by the police, and most had dispersed by around 3 pm.

Two hours later, according to witnesses, a gathering of around 100-150 young men mobilised with a blaring mike and a DJ in the same area where the peaceful processions had earlier dispersed. Several of these men carried naked swords and big sticks.

At least two of them were seen waving pistols. Instead of going on the main road, this procession went into the narrow lanes of C Block and stopped outside the mosque where offensive slogans were shouted, and loud music was played. This was timed deliberately to coincide with the gathering of Muslims in the mosque to end their fast and take part in the prayers.

The police have said this procession was illegal as it did not have the required permission. Then why was it allowed? There is an Arms Act which prohibits the carrying of arms without permission.

Why was it not used by the police? The Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), to whom I put this question, responded that if the procession had been stopped it would have led to protests. In other words, an illegal armed procession with the clear aim of provoking communal violence was permitted by the police and subsequently, the police arrested those who were the targets of this conspiracy.

Stones were pelted on the procession outside the mosque after the actions of those participating in the illegal procession. A Muslim man who was seen using a gun has rightly been arrested. Action under similar provisions of the law should be applied to those with pistols in the procession. Of the five Hindus arrested, four belong to the same family.

The head of the family is the priest at a temple built on government land. This family has been booked for conspiracy. Are we to believe that four members of a family are the only ones guilty?

The police had named the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the youth wing of the Bajrang Dal as the organisers of the illegal procession. Later, the names were withdrawn from the FIR. A VHP leader from a neighbouring area was arrested. The VHP senior leadership made a threatening statement. Within a few hours, the local leader was released. All these events taken together point to an entirely one-sided investigation – the main aim being to target and demonise the Muslim community as being responsible.

Once the one-sided narrative became the dominant one in the public domain, the next step was intimidation, bullying and the “punishment”. The Delhi president of the BJP, Adesh Gupta, wrote a letter to the Mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is under the control of the BJP, urging him to send bulldozers to end the illegal encroachments of the “rioters and anti-social elements” “responsible for the April 16 events.”

The official BJP Twitter account asked the ominous question, “Will the bulldozers reach Delhi?” The central government provided the police force required and on April 20, the bulldozers did reach C Block and started demolishing the structures on the main road. This is what is selective.

The block was chosen by the Delhi BJP chief “to punish the rioters”. It was not an anti-encroachment drive. It was entirely illegal, without any notice. Twelve shops belonging to the mosque were demolished. The gate of the mosque was also broken. Another row of shops adjacent was also demolished, including a few belonging to Hindus.

Once the bulldozer is let loose, everything in its wake is destroyed. The livelihood of at least 100 poor shopkeepers and street vendors was bulldozed that day. Since then, because of the police barricades, no work has been possible; children have not been able to go to school.

The day the bulldozers reached Jahangirpuri, my comrades and I were going there in solidarity with the people being victimised. I got the news that our appeal in the Supreme Court along with others had been mentioned and a status quo had been ordered. It was around 10.50 am. But the bulldozers did not stop despite the Supreme Court order.

When we reached there at around noon, we saw the bulldozer in action, smashing the meagre belongings and structures of the poor. I saw weeping women and children and crowds watching, unable to do anything. It was shocking. We stopped the bulldozers – what was being done was in contempt of court.

It is not just the residents of C Block, Jahangirpuri, who had to face the bulldozer. What is being demolished is not just their meagre property – what is being demolished is the Constitution of India, the rights of citizens to legal redress, and the right to a fair investigation.

The bulldozer is not just a machine. It represents the toxic politics of communal Hindutva. It represents a political strategy of the Sangh Parivar and it is backed by the might of the state governments wherever the BJP is in power, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintains a deafening silence.

This bulldozer can never be stopped with a response from equally fundamentalist politics. It can and must be stopped by those who believe in unity, secularism and defending the rights of the poor.

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

Source: NDTV.COM

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Brinda Karat

Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former member of the Rajya Sabha

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