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Bulldozing houses in UP: India isn't Israel, Muslims living here 'aren't Palestinians'

By Naveen Tewari, Sandeep Pandey* 

A recent full front page of the advertisement by a Bhartiya Janata Party government declares, 'House is not just a word. It is a place where power to dream comes and aspirations are fulfilled. Home is much about dignity and security than it is about shelter.' It further goes on to quote Narendra Modi, 'It is my dream that every Indian has a pucca house by 2022.' The occasion was dedication of houses built by a private builder Balaji to the poor.
Having witnessed over the past few days the now iconic picture of a bulldozer running down the Prayagraj house of parents of female Muslim student and activist Afreen Fatima, who participated in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens protests, one is almost tempted to look for a fine print at the bottom of the page to the effect that the promise of house is subject to the condition that one doesn't participate in any anti-government protest otherwise there is a danger of bulldozers coming over.
A house built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana by Hasina Fakhroo was demolished by administration following clashes during a Ram Navami procession in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh in April earlier this year.
Riot police and paramilitary forces are deployed by all governments to control mob violence. These forces use all kinds of weapons and deterrents to enforce law and order. The hauling up and arrest of culprits inciting violence or leading mobs to challenge the authority of the state is a follow up action which ends in trials and sentencing of the guilty.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has found a new weapon to deal with the violators who pose a challenge to the authority of the state namely, the Bulldozer! Yogi Adityanath alone knows from whose book of criminal jurisprudence this leaf has been taken out.
At least it is difficult to find an example anywhere in the world barring the sole exception of Israel where the government is in constant conflict with the Palestinian population. The Palestinian land is forcibly taken over to build Jewish settlements and Palestinians are subjected to brutal repression when they resist.
The law in India is not based on the whims and impulses of any leader. It is a strictly codified framework with inflexible procedures and defined limits to its application. Rule of law is not the writ or diktat of a ruler but it is based on the Constitution and the laws that are framed by the legislature are within the structure of the Constitution.
Even the most archaic laws like the Sharia have definite punishment for every particular crime. Chopping of hands and beheading may appear to be repulsive and uncivilised to us but they are based on some penal code. Even the Taliban Government would not go beyond the scope of Sharia to punish the guilty by boiling them in water or chopping them piece by piece or sawing them vertically!
Here in India, in full view of the whole nation including the Supreme Court and High Courts, a Chief Minister is setting an example of how to be a law unto himself! We are shocked by the absence of any reaction to this outrageous and audacious act by the media, intellectuals and activists who are perhaps keeping quiet out of fear of the same bulldozers knocking on their doors.
It is further appalling that the spineless judges, who sit on the benches of constitutional courts flaunting their unlimited powers and authority in front of a common citizen litigant, lose their hammer and tongue at a ghastly manifestation of mockery of justice in full public view.
In full view of Supreme Court and High Courts, a Chief Minister is setting an example of how to be a law unto himself
Where is the civil society in this country? Is there any? Is there any civilised society at all? What kind of people can watch this naked dance of sham democracy which is more of an oppressive dictatorship rather than anything else?
India is not Israel and Muslims living here are not Palestinians (though there is no justification even for the Israeli government’s inhuman actions). Muslims are our own countrymen living under the same Constitution which treats every person (not merely citizens) equal before law.
If a Muslim has built a house illegally it does not mean that it can be demolished without due legal process while the Hindus constructing multi-storied buildings and colonies, in violation of the law, will enjoy immunity.
It is not that bulldozers were not used earlier to demolish houses or kiosks of street vendors. In fact, quite frequently administrations of governments all over the country have demolished settlements of poor, mostly migrants from rural areas or other states, who come to cities in search of livelihood and set up their jhuggis or kiosks on some government land.
Recently hundreds of families have been uprooted in Ahmedabad city who were living for more than a couple of decades next to Railway tracks. In these instances as well the Constitution and Court directives are violated but the governments justify it on some grounds. What is new is selective political targeting now, especially by the BJP governments.
The government of Uttar Pradesh is writing a novel book on crime and punishment. But even this book will not be the final code because once we go on this path of degeneration. Every other ruler who comes to rule will enjoy the privilege of acting upon his own whims and fancies.
Yogi Adityanath should just remember the day when he had wept in the Parliament eeling his life under threat merely because the then district administration of Gorakhpur had arrested him for a brief period. He is doing worse things to people.
The UP government has promulgated a law ‘Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act, 2020’ which aims to recover the damages to any property during any agitation from the accused persons. A Claims Tribunal will determine the recovery amount and its decision cannot be challenged in any court.
Moreover, the burden of proof lies on the accused to prove himself/herself innocent. This is another example of high handed manner in which the Yogi government has been treating dissenters.
A question that we would like to pose is if demolishing anybody’s house is proved to be illegal by a court later, shouldn’t the officials who ordered the demolition in first place not be subjected to a law similar to the abovementioned one. If citizens can be held accountable for damage to property, why should not the officials be?
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*Naveen Tewari is entrepreneur-activist; Magsaysay award winning social activist-academic, Sandeep Pandey is general secretary of Socialist Party (India)

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