Once the bulldozer is let loose—everything in its wake is destroyed

By Brinda Karat

The bulldozers in Jahangirpuri which flattened shops, the front portion of a masjid, and destroyed the livelihoods of scores of people, have temporarily been stopped. I say temporary because it depends on the view that the Supreme Court will take in its next hearing.

The arguments of the Solicitor General before the Court after the demolition were quite revealing of the attitude the Central Government is taking. The SG justified the demolition by stating that (1) it was not related to the clashes which had occurred on April 16th. He claimed that it was a “normal” drive against encroachments (2) he argued that it was not communally or selectively motivated and pointed to a petitioner Gupta ji whose shop had been demolished (3) he said it was not illegal because notices had either been given to some and the rest did not require notices.

It is not my purpose to discuss matters which are before the Court in a case in which I too along with others, am a petitioner. But outside the court case, there is a 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 it is required and extending help to get justice regardless of the community involved. We stand for punishment to all those guilty of violent incidents in a fair and just manner.

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I personally am familiar with Jahangirpuri from when it was established forty 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 the edges of the city boundaries. Among them were hundreds of Bengali Muslims from Midnapur, Dinajpur, 24 Parganas, 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. In most of the gullies in this block, the residents are mainly Muslim. Therefore when I heard that they were being described as Rohingyas and Bangladeshis by BJP leaders, I knew this was the BJP’s lie manufacturing factory at work. It is unfortunate that the AAP which runs the Delhi government, instead of countering this, agreed with the BJP about their identity as “ illegal immigrants”  and blamed the BJP for settling them there.

This false narrative is to justify the inhuman attack on poor people who belong mainly to the Muslim community. They are bonafide Indian citizens. But in my mind there is another question for these parties: 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 in particular have never witnessed any kind of communal incidents 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 lived in Jahangirpuri.  

We had set up a relief camp and volunteers from all over Delhi came to help. All worked together and hundreds of Jahangirpuri residents, both Hindu and Muslim helped each other in that time of distress. That was four decades ago. Residents of both communities whom our teams met in the last week expressed themselves in a way that showed that the spirit was still alive.

But then why did the April 16th events occur? The media has reported it in various ways. But the dominating version is that which is put out by the BJP. They say that on Hanuman Jayanti, a procession of Hindus was attacked when it was crossing C Block and stones were pelted at the processionists. The Chief Minister of Delhi 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 that this is an entirely one-sided version which is 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 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 routes, escorted by the police, and most had dispersed by around 3 pm. Two hours later from around the same place where the peaceful processions had dispersed, a gathering of around 100-150 young men mobilised with a blaring mike and DJ.

Several of them carried naked swords and big sticks. At least two of them were waving pistols. Instead of going on the main road, this procession went into 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 that prohibits the carrying of arms without permission. Why was it not used by the police? The Special CP Law and Order to whom I put this question responded that if the procession had been stopped, it would have led to protests.

So in other words, an illegal armed procession with the clear aim of provoking communal violence is permitted by the police, and then the police arrest those who were the targets of this conspiracy. Stones were pelted on the procession outside the mosque in response to the actions of the participants in the illegal procession. The man, a Muslim who brought out a gun, and fired has rightly been arrested. Similar 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 in a mandir built on government land. This family has been booked for conspiracy. Are we to believe that four members of a family are the only conspirators?

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. While it is true that there was stone pelting on the procession after an altercation, it was more in the nature of a response to a conspiracy to cause a communal flareup by the Sangh Parivar.

Once this narrative became the dominant one in the public domain, the next step was intimidation and 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, 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 20th, the bulldozers did reach C Block and started demolishing the structures on the main road of C Block. This is what is selective. The Block was chosen by the Delhi President of the BJP—to “punish the rioters.”

It was not an anti-encroachment drive. It was entirely illegal, without any notice. 12 shops belonging to the mosque were demolished. The gate of the mosque was also broken. Another row of shops adjacent were also demolished—some of them belonging to Hindus. Once the bulldozer is let loose—everything in its wake is destroyed. The livelihood of at least 100 poor shopkeepers, street vendors, and sacks collected by waste pickers was bulldozed that day.

 Since then because of the police barricades, no work has been possible, and 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 SC 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 in spite of the SC order. We immediately left for the area.

Since it is quite far we reached there at around noon. We saw with our own eyes that the belongings of the poor were being destroyed.I saw weeping women and children—crowds standing by unable to do anything with a huge police force around the bulldozers. If even half the number of police had been deployed on Hanuman Jayanti none of this would have happened. It was shocking. We stopped the bulldozers physically because 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 power of the state governments wherever the BJP is in power, while the Prime Minister maintains a deafening silence.

This bulldozer can never be stopped with a response of equally fundamentalist politics. It can and must be stopped by those who believe in unity, secularism, and defense of the rights of the poor. All patriots should stand together shoulder to shoulder to stop this bulldozer.

Brinda Karat is a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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