Amnesty International has called on Indian authorities to immediately halt the “unlawful” demolitions of Muslim properties, as it released two new reports describing the targeting of homes, businesses and places of worship across several states belonging to the minority community.
Calling the demolitions a form of extrajudicial punishment, the rights group demanded adequate compensation to all those affected by the demolitions that have rendered hundreds of people, most of them Muslims, homeless and their livelihoods destroyed.
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The London-based rights group also called on the JCB construction equipment company, whose bulldozers have been widely used in the “punitive” demolitions, to “publicly condemn the use of its machinery to commit human rights violations”.
Here are the main points of the reports.
What do the reports say about bulldozer politics in India?
The two reports, titled Bulldozer Injustice in India and JCB’s Role and Responsibility in Bulldozer Injustice in India, document demolitions of at least 128 properties between April and June 2022. Amnesty International says the demolitions carried out by bulldozers have rendered at least 617 people either homeless or destroyed their livelihoods.
It says authorities in five states – Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi – carried out demolitions as a “punishment” following episodes of religious violence or protest by Muslims against discriminatory government policies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been accused of running anti-Muslim rhetoric, rules in four out of the five states.
“The unlawful demolition of Muslim properties by the Indian authorities, peddled as ‘bulldozer justice’ by political leaders and media, is cruel and appalling … They are destroying families – and must stop immediately,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, in a statement on Wednesday.
“The authorities have repeatedly undermined the rule of law, destroying homes, businesses or places of worship, through targeted campaigns of hate, harassment, violence and the weaponisation of JCB bulldozers. These human rights abuses must be urgently addressed.”
Last month, Muslim homes and properties were demolished by bulldozers in the financial hub of Mumbai after communal violence flared in the wake of the inauguration of the Ram temple by Modi in Ayodhya city in northern Uttar Pradesh. The temple was built on the place where the 16th-century Babri mosque stood until 1992, when Hindu mobs demolished it.
Last year, more than 300 Muslim properties were demolished after communal violence on the outskirts of the Indian capital, New Delhi. In 2021, a 100-year-old mosque was demolished in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district, while in 2023, a 16th-century mosque was razed in Prayagraj city, also in Uttar Pradesh, under a road widening project.
Analysts say bulldozers have come to symbolise the oppression of Muslims in India, particularly after Yogi Adityanath – the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, known for his anti-Muslim bigotry – started the policy of destroying properties of those accused of crimes to dispense instant justice. But legal experts say due process is the biggest casualty of this new phenomenon popular among the Hindu far right.
Since Modi took over as prime minister in 2014, attacks against Muslims and their livelihood have increased, with dozens of Muslims lynched over cow smuggling allegations.
What has the BJP government said?
BJP leaders widely celebrate the demolitions – so much so that bulldozers have featured in election campaigning of the ruling party candidates. They claim that the demolition exercises are against encroachment and target buildings owned by criminals or gangsters.
Authorities have denied that the Muslim community was being targeted.
BJP spokesperson Raman Malik told Al Jazeera in the wake of demolitions in August that bulldozing is only done to remove illegal encroachments. But rights groups pointed out that overwhelmingly, Muslim properties were the target.
Is the bulldozing legal?
Civil society members, activists, and opposition politicians believe that destroying buildings is a deliberate form of targeted violence against minority communities such as Muslims.
Brinda Karat from the Communist Party of India opposed the demolitions in Delhi, saying the bulldozers are used to deliberately target Muslims under the guise of removing encroachments.
Amnesty in its report said that the demolitions were carried out without following due process. Occupants of buildings were not warned prior to demolitions or given enough time to leave their properties and salvage their belongings. Amnesty interviewed 75 demolition survivors. Among them, only six received any form of prior notice from the authorities.
“The issue also arises whether the buildings belonging to a particular community are being brought down under the guise of [a] law and order problem and an exercise of ethnic cleansing is being conducted by the state,” the Punjab and Haryana High Court had said in the wake of demolition in Nuh on the outskirts of New Delhi.
The court also established that due legal processes were not carried out before the demolition drive. Prior notices were also not issued to the people who lost their property.
The Amnesty report said that India is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), under which it is obliged to respect and fulfil the right to adequate living, “which includes the right to adequate housing, the right to work, and the right to social security”.
Is the bulldozer company, JCB, responsible?
Bulldozers manufactured by the United Kingdom-based Joseph Cyril Bamford Excavators (JCB) are commonly used to carry out these demolitions, Amnesty found.
The report added that JCB bulldozers are such a conspicuous part of demolitions in India that “JCB” and “bulldozer” are used interchangeably. The punitive bulldozing using JCB’s machinery is lauded among BJP leaders. BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao called JCB “Jihadi Control Board” in April 2022 in a now-deleted X post.
“Under international standards, JCB is responsible for addressing what third-party buyers do with its equipment. The company must stop looking away as JCB machines are used to target and punish the Muslim community… JCB cannot continue to evade responsibility while its machines are repeatedly used to inflict human rights abuses,” said Amnesty’s Callamard. “The company must publicly condemn the use of its machinery to commit human rights violations.”
Amnesty cited the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which state businesses are responsible for respecting human rights and should avoid contributing to human rights violations. The report said that JCB is responsible for determining whether its machinery was used for punitive demolitions and adding clauses to its sales contracts that mitigate human rights violations.
In response to Amnesty’s message to JCB, a legal firm acting on behalf of the company presented several arguments to distance JCB from the human rights violations in India.
The firm said that there is no direct link between JCB and the alleged human rights violations, adding that most of its machinery is sold by JCB India through independent third-party dealers.
The legal firm also said that JCB can not control the use of its products once sold to customers and that JCB does not have any leverage over those who use its products or its dealership network.
This is not the first time Amnesty has called out JCB’s complicity in human rights violations. In November 2021, another Amnesty report showed dozens of specific incidents during which Israeli authorities used JCB machinery to demolish residential and farm buildings belonging to Palestinians. JCB denied selling any machinery to the Israeli government or the contractors carrying out demolitions in Palestine.