By Mohammad Naushad Khan

The rise of bulldozer culture reveals blatant aggression against the established rule of law. It is also an act of jeopardizing the institution of judiciary. Bulldozer culture reflects authoritarianism in a democratic framework. It has become a new method of instant justice but can it satisfy the basic modalities of natural justice?

These days, bulldozer culture appears to be an inclination of a deep-rooted manifestation of hate against minorities. The big question: Will instant bulldozer justice sabotage the rights of victims enshrined in the Constitution? Also, why are the victims looked upon as accused under the bulldozer justice mechanism? How dangerous is it for our democracy, democratic institutions and the due process of law? The selective and prejudiced bulldozing is likely to diminish and destroy the diversity of our cultural identities. It may further erode our faith in justice delivery mechanism, rule of law and due process of law.

According to Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and journalist and secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), “What we are witnessing is unprecedented in the history of this country, is an assault by the executive, by Parliament, by sections of the law and order machinery on all the fundamental non-negotiable that this country and its Constitution stands for: equality, non-discrimination, justice. The bulldozer is being used to unlawfully destroy people’s lives; the target is one denomination of the Indian people that the ruling ideology of this government believes to be ‘enemies’ of a theocratic and autocratic nation.” 

Teesta added, “It’s not just the bulldozer though; it’s a combined arsenal of hate speech/writing, arming of non-state actors with weapons and a message to the law and order machinery that you act under political dictate. Under these extraordinary and dangerous circumstances where the government (central and many states) has declared a war on its own people, what should Institutions like the Judiciary (and Election Commission too) do?

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures like 24X7 diligence, the use of the powerful suo motu power of the higher courts, above all, orders that have a meaning in the lives of targeted populations who are fast losing the faith. If this does not happen, we may well be on the brink of civil war.”

Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), member of the politburo of the CPIML Liberation and editor of CPIML Liberation’s monthly publication, Liberation, while sharing her perspective on the ongoing bulldozer culture, said, “The image of the yellow JCB (the brand is named after Joseph Cyril Bamford, its British founder) bulldozer has become the reigning image of India’s Hindu-supremacist fascism. BJP leaders, including those heading its state governments, use ‘bulldozer’ as short hand for razing or threatening to raze down homes and shops belonging to Muslims. The bulldozer was practically an alternate re-election campaign symbol for Yogi Adityanath, the UP Chief Minister who sends these machines to homes of young Muslim men accused of ‘raping’ Hindu women, threatening to raze down their homes if they fail to surrender to the police.”

She added, “‘Rape’ here is the BJP’s code for love between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman. But note that even if the allegation of rape or any other crime were to have any merit, there is neither any reason not legal basis for the government to threaten to raze down the home of the accused. The aim is to create a spectacle – to humiliate and terrorise Muslims.”

“The ‘encroachment’ pretext is a thin veil at best – but in any case BJP leaders take the trouble to spell it all out clearly. The Madhya Pradesh Home Minister, for example, stated clearly that “bulldozers will go in wherever rioters live.” While all slum dwellers across religious communities in India know the fear of having their homes razed to clear ‘illegal encroachment’, the term gains an extra Islamophobic charge when applied to Muslims. Hindu slum-dwellers or farmers can be accused of “illegally encroaching” on government land; but they are never accused of illegally encroaching on India as a country itself as Muslims often are,” said Krishnan.

“The BJP’s favourite canard against Muslims is that they are not Indian: accusing them of being Bangladeshis encroaching on Indian land follows from this. These days, the new term of othering and abuse for Muslims in India is ‘Rohingya’. This term kills two birds with one stone – it equates the helpless and stateless Rohingya refugees (a few thousands of whom are in India) with terrorists, and equates Indian Muslims with ‘Rohingyas’ who do not belong in India,” she said.

While drawing parallel between bulldozer culture today and the demolition of Babri Masjid, Krishnan said, “The spectacle of the bulldozers reducing Muslim homes, property and places of worship brings to mind the demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. Like the Babri Masjid demolition, there is a staging of fascist terror by India’s ruling BJP against the minority Muslim community – this time on a more sustainable, local scale. Every humble Muslim home, every little local mosque can now become the site for a display of fascist terror.”

A.C. Michael, a human rights defender and former Member of Delhi Minorities Commission, said, “It is a well-known fact that this government, especially the top two men, believe in making media event of every act of theirs to give such a spin that makes everyone around it to turn 360 degrees and it is not a secret to create a media event one needs a symbol and this time they have chosen – BULLDOZER! Also bulldozers have helped them to camouflage in such a way those ordinary citizens are yet to realise that it is they themselves who are at the receiving end of this bulldozing business. Bulldozers have applied blinders on the majority and make them see it selectively against the minority.”

Advocate Nasir Aziz, President of South Asian Minorities Lawyers Association (SAMLA), on the ongoing debate said, “In the past too there used to be demolition drives but Bulldozers were scarcely used. These days Bulldozers are pressed into service even for demolishing wooden structures like shanties and shops belonging to the minority community. Bulldozers have acquired a new meaning during the BJP regime, and have become a political symbol of suppression, destruction and intimidation of the Muslims which pleases the majority community no end. Hence it is repeatedly and frequently used. Yes, the judiciary has a very strong role to play in arresting this culture.”

He added, “More often than not, the demolition drives adhere to the rules but in recent rush to demolish the properties in Jahangirpuri and other Muslim dominated areas have openly flouted the rules and the laws. It was commendable the way SC stopped the demolition drive in Jahangirpuri but the fact that as administration carried on with it despite the SC orders is a very disturbing fact, undermining the majesty of the Court. At present the Bulldozer is a strong symbol of the majoritarian hegemony. The courts must see to it that it is used only as per the rules and all such acts with the intent to threaten the minority must be curtailed, stopped.”

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