Bulldozing the Idea of India


Mushtaque Rahamat | Clarion India

THE politics of bulldozing homes and businesses of an accused which is also in practice in Israel amounts to collective punishment the parallel and the antecedent of which can be traced back to Nazi Germany.

Log TuuT jaate haiñ ek ghar banāne meñ

Tum taras nahīñ khāte bastiyāñ jalāne meñ

The above couplet of Basheer Badar, a renowned Urdu poet, best describes the sentiments of the person whose dwelling has been reduced to ashes by miscreants during communal riots. But the poet who recently left for his heavenly abode may not have imagined that after him, the miscreants would be replaced by a democratically elected government.

Watching the demolition of houses belonging to riot accused in Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad, was gut-wrenching. Last month, a similar scene was played out in Delhi’s Jehangirpuri. In this impoverished locality, homes and businesses of poor Muslims were demolished by MCD officials apparently on the pretext of illegal encroachment despite the Supreme Court’s stay order. Earlier in the same month, a bulldozer was used against the riot accused in Madhya Pradesh’s town Khargon.

The politics of bulldozing homes and businesses of an accused which is also in practice in Israel amounts to collective punishment the parallel and the antecedent of which can be traced back to Nazi Germany. Interestingly, those who suffered at the hands of Nazis are resorting to the same strong-arm tactics of state power, discriminatory politics and ethno-majoritarian statecraft.

The social and political exclusion of the minorities is at the centre of this politics of demolition. The demolition, besides being a collective punishment for an unproven crime, is not only beyond any judicial process but also meant to fix a dissenter and his entire community.

The usual justification given by the law enforcement agencies in such cases is the maintenance of law and order, or there is no other way to control riots or the other members of the household are the enablers of violence or put simply the property stood on illegal land or were encroachment. Just a cursory assessment will reveal many holes in these arguments. Even if one accepts all these, demolitions of houses can’t be justified on ethical grounds. They need to be called what they are – collective punishment, an act of brute state power sans empathy for citizens.

Demolition violates the basic sense of justice; it does not require any complicated argument. Punishing innocents for a crime they haven’t committed is an illegal act, plain and simple.

It seems India has taken a leaf straight from Israel’s policy to use bulldozers to demolish houses of Palestinians accused of resistance to imperialist policies. Israeli officials claim that the house demolition policy is supposed to deter other Palestinians from planning or carrying out such attacks, out of concern that their families’ homes would be demolished. However, Israeli authorities never revealed how effective this technique was or whether it did help make Israel secure. An Israeli military committee chaired by Major General Udi Shani disclosed that the efficacy of this policy as a deterrent was questionable and that engendering hate it caused more damage than good.

Another justification floated by Israeli authorities is that the house was built without due permission, never mind that Israeli authorities approved only 1.5% of building permits for Palestinians. In contrast, thousands of Jewish settlements illegally built on Palestinian land have a tacit approval of the Israeli government.

For poor Palestinians, the bulldozer is a sign of occupation, demolished houses and establishments, shame to the judiciary that hides behind the plea for administrative measures and concern for safety. The displaced men, women, children, the weak and the old are mere numbers and assumed to vanish in thin air.

Similarly, the bulldozer has become a symbol of brute state power in India and its discriminatory deployment is chillingly similar to that of Israel. The bulldozer will continue to rein as long as Hindutva’s binary world vision doesn’t graduate from demolition and destruction to construction.

In fact, it’s the narrow worldview of the Hindu right which has been substituted by glorious announcements, an unabashed show of might through shobha yatras, gaurav yatras hurtling through lanes and by-lanes demolishing houses of the poor and the weak on the way. They derive a sadistic pleasure from mob lynching, killing of unarmed helpless people and posting videos of their heinous crimes on social media. All this fills the ideological void. No wonder the bulldozer has become an extension of their ideological core.

The current ruling dispensation has not just replicated the Israeli experiment of terrorising its most significant minority by a bulldozer but also taken a leaf straight from its rule book on how to perpetuate its ethno-majoritarian rule.

From Savarkar to Modi, Hindutva icons have always admired Israel as a template for an ethno-majority state. If the close “bromance” Modi shared with Netanyahu since 2014 and the way the Zionist nation has emerged the second-biggest supplier of defence equipment to India are any indications, the BJP/RSS treats Israel as a model of governance.

But the bonhomie between India under Modi and Israel goes beyond the dimension of the statecraft; it is of appreciation and drawing a parallel. Modi is taking forward what Savarkar wrote in 1920. “If the Zionists’ dreams are ever realised – if Palestine becomes a Jewish state – it will gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends.”

It’s no surprise that lately, there has been a groundswell of support for Israel and its atrocities on Palestinians in India by the Hindutva eco-system. In 2016, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said, “Israel was attacked by the surrounding Islamic countries on five occasions, but the Israeli people repulsed their aggressions and extended their boundaries due to the strong resolve to save [their] motherland.”

A year before in 2015 while addressing a RSS gathering, he lamented India’s weak defence and suggested that India should learn from Israel. Perhaps it is this advice from the fountainhead of Sangh Parivar that this government has taken to heart-wreaking havoc on Indian Muslims on the silliest of an excuse. Recently, there have been numerous agitations across India, some even violent while others lasting for almost a year. Still, none of the protestors’ houses were demolished as these protests weren’t wholly Muslims.

In the last 75 years, India has evolved democratically, unlike some of its neighbours, leaving Hindutva forces to take the route of the democratic process to make it the first nation for Hindus and relegating minorities to the status of second-class citizens as Israel has done demonstrably to its Arab citizens which are around 20% of its population.

Ethnic democracy isn’t an apartheid regime, but a form of democracy that accords priority status to its majority and doesn’t necessarily disenfranchise its minorities. Instead, its policies are designed to push minorities to ghettos devoid of civic amenities, erase their cultural heritage and make them invisible from the public, social and political life.

It practically makes them feel unwanted. The BJP has actively been doing this and its fallout can be felt in other political parties. The discriminatory legislation, partisan administrative actions, the sleepy judiciary, and pliant media are strengthening the practice of ethno-democracy.

The last eight years of this government has created enabling environment of an ethno-democracy with a marked hierarchy of citizen: Hindus as the primary citizen and the custodian of Indian culture and the other minorities, especially Muslims as a second class citizen. This is the culmination of what Golwalker wrote in 1938“The non-Hindu people of Hindustan … may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation.” The idea of India as known to us has finally given way to India for Hindus only.

The bulldozer has become a symbol of brute state power in India and its discriminatory deployment is chillingly similar to that of Israel.
Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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