His house was demolished because he is a Muslim in India, he says

“In the blink of an eye, my house was demolished,” said the 45-year-old fruit vendor, whose kitchen, fruit cart and livestock shed were destroyed. “While I was there watching… (the police) just walked away.”

Chunks of wood, rusted metal and garbage line the sandy sidewalk outside her home, where her four children play.

His home was one of several properties in the Chhoti Mohan Talkies neighborhood of the city of Khargone, in India’s central Madhya Pradesh state, which he says was demolished by authorities after violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims erupted on April 10. – the day of Hinduism. Ram Navami festival.

Experts say the demolitions are the tip of a much deeper problem and that this is just the latest in a series of attacks on the country’s Muslim population, fueled in part by the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party.

They argue that Muslims in BJP-administered Madhya Pradesh were disproportionately punished in the aftermath of the violence, raising fears that members of the country’s largest minority religion – some 200 million of India’s 1.3 billion population are Muslim – are being persecuted under the BJP.

Communist Party of India leader Brinda Karat, center, stands in front of a bulldozer during the demolition of Muslim-owned stores in the Jahangirpuri neighborhood of northwest New Delhi, New Delhi, India, Wednesday, 20 April 2022.

They point to similar problems in the capital New Delhi, where witnesses told CNN that authorities began demolishing shops and other structures in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Jahangirpuri on Wednesday, days after violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims erupted after Hanuman Jayanti, a celebration. of the Hindu god Hanuman’s birthday.

For Baig, there’s an extra sense of injustice.

Baig said he and his neighbors were nowhere near the scene of the clashes.

“I don’t know what’s going on in my country,” said Baig, who says he has lived on the property for more than 30 years. “But all I can say is that I’m paying the price of being a Muslim.”

Debris and debris from Shahdullah Baig's destroyed home.

‘My stores were demolished because I am Muslim’

Communal violence in Khargone erupted after groups of Hindu men carrying saffron flags – a color associated with Hinduism that has become increasingly politicized in recent years – marched through Muslim-majority neighborhoods on Ram Navami, a festival celebrating the birth of revered Hindu God, Lord Ram.
The details of the clashes are disputed. Violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims broke out, with some men throwing stones and holding guns in the air, according to a video from local news outlets. Houses and cars were set on fire and at least one person died – a Muslim man – in the clashes, state police told reporters. A curfew was imposed in the city to stem the violence on April 10, and some restrictions were lifted after 11 days, they said. The government said it has earmarked a cumulative sum of $131,000 for families affected by the violence.

But it is the scenes of state officials demolishing property that have garnered the most attention, with activists and citizens decrying the measure as unfair and illegal.

Khargone authorities demolished a property after the violence.

Dr. Tameezuddin Shaikh was at home on April 11 when he received a call from a friend informing him that authorities were demolishing his son’s medical clinic in the predominantly Muslim Talab Chowk neighborhood of Khargone.

“I was shocked,” said Shaikh, who says he often provides free services to poor and marginalized families. “There was a curfew imposed in the city and I was not warned of any illegality. I live far from my medical post and with the curfew imposed there was no way to stop the demolitions.”

About a dozen shops in Talab Chowk were demolished by Khargone authorities, according to Shaikh.

Madhya Pradesh Interior Minister Narottam Mishra described the state’s actions as a form of revenge. telling reporters on April 11: “From the houses where the stones were thrown, let’s turn those houses into a pile of stones.” He offered no proof that the residents whose homes were destroyed were linked to the violence.

Shaikh said neither he nor his son were involved in the violence. And he’s been serving the local community at that store for more than five decades without a hitch, he added.

“I am a respected name in Khargone, having served the people all my life,” he said. “But all the medicine and everything in my clinic that was worth more than 10 lakh rupees ($13,000) turned to rubble.”

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The Muslim group Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind has filed a petition with India’s Supreme Court, calling for intervention in the demolitions and calling them a “violation” of India’s Constitution.

According to lawyer and activist Kawalpreet Kaur, district officials “cannot take justice into their own hands and cannot be the adjudicating authority”.

“They cannot decide who is a criminal,” she said.

Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Center for Policy Research, said the demolitions in Madhya Pradesh were “unprecedented”.

“It’s not the city’s job to punish people who might be involved in stoning or violence,” he said.

Ayub Khan, a resident of the Aurangpura Square neighborhood about 2 kilometers from Talab Chowk, lost seven stores when authorities demolished them a day after the violence.

Khan says he lost more than $26,000 in the destruction and is now faced with the daunting task of rebuilding without enough money. He plans to file a petition against state officials in the country’s Supreme Court.

Ayub Khan in front of his destroyed shops in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh.

“The demolished stores were there for over 70 years and we never received a single warning (from the government),” he said. “Indeed, my shops were demolished because I am a Muslim who refused to bow before the BJP leaders. The way the district administration is attacking Muslims after the violence in Khargone, it is evident that they hate a particular community. .”

CNN reached out to the Secretary of the Interior Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the Minister of Interior, the District Collector of Khargone and the police, but received no response.

Support for the Hindu Right

Tensions between Indian Hindus and Muslims have been a hotbed of tension for decades – even before India won its independence from the British. But when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP came to power in 2014, promising economic reform and development, experts feared their rise could signal an ideological shift from the country’s secular norms to those of a Hindu nationalist state.

The BJP has its roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu group that counts Modi among its members and adheres to Hindutva ideology – which seeks to make India the land of Hindus.

Analysts and activists feared that Modi’s election would leave India’s Muslims – about 14% of the country’s population – vulnerable to exploitation.
Police officers stand next to a partially demolished shop in the area that saw community violence during a Hindu religious procession on Saturday, in the Jahangirpuri neighborhood of northwest New Delhi, New Delhi, India, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.

According to Debasish Roy Chowdhury, co-author of “To Kill A Democracy: India’s Passage to Despotism,” the “demonstrable subjugation and domination of Muslims through their constant humiliation and disempowerment” is “central” to the BJP’s Hindutva project.

“He charges the party’s right-wing Hindu voter base, as well as helping to attract more supporters by constantly polarizing voters on the basis of religious identity through a relentless campaign of hate,” he said.

And, according to Chowdhury, Hindu vigilante groups “have more and more freedom of action.”

In the past eight years, several BJP-administered states have imposed new laws that critics say are rooted in Hindutva ideology. At the same time, reports of violence and hate speech against Muslims have increasingly made headlines across the country.

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The most controversial new laws are in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by Hindu monk-turned-politician Yogi Adityanath. The state has introduced laws to protect cows, an animal considered sacred to Hindus, from slaughter, and has made it increasingly difficult to transport cattle. It also introduced an anti-conversion bill, which makes it difficult for interfaith couples to marry or convert people to Islam or Christianity.
More recently, the southern state of Karnataka, ruled by the BJP, banned Muslim girls from wearing religious veils in classrooms, prompting several to challenge the ruling in the state’s highest court – a battle they ended up losing.

According to Muslim writer and journalist Rana Ayyub, Muslims are “made to feel like victims in their own country”.

“From what I see in India now, I feel for my Muslims,” ​​she said. “I feel for my brother every time he goes to Namaz (prayers) wearing a skullcap during the month of (Ramadan)”.

And the demolition of Muslim-owned properties during Ramadan, according to Ayyub, is “demonizing and demoralizing.”

“It’s like (state officials) are doing this on purpose,” she said. “They are trying to tell us that (for) a month that is sacrosanct for Muslims, ‘we are going to humiliate your beliefs and your system’.”

The future

Baig continues to live in a small room in his house – the only one he has spared from demolition – with his wife, children and ailing father.

They don’t have running water or electricity. Food is running low, he says, and with his livelihood destroyed, Baig doesn’t know how he can support his family.

“With temperatures reaching 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit), we are struggling to calm our crying children,” said his wife Parveen.

Meanwhile, Khargone district officials posted several Photos and videos to their official social media, showing police patrolling the streets and demolishing more property.
“Don’t Let Harmony Divide You” reading a tweet from Tuesday. “Create an atmosphere of peace and harmony.”

But Baig believes the very institutions to protect him and his family betrayed him by destroying their home.

“I want to ask the government, how can a man who struggles to survive but feeds his family by working hard every day, have the means to indulge in (violent) activities?” asked Baig.

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