NEW DELHI (AP) – Tractor-mounted authorities destroyed several Muslim-owned stores in New Delhi before India’s Supreme Court halted demolitions on Wednesday, days after communal violence rocked the capital and saw dozens of people arrested. .
Shopkeepers rummaged through the rubble of their stores afterwards to collect their belongings. But for nearly an hour after the Supreme Court’s order, authorities continued to demolish structures, including the exterior entrance and stairs leading to a mosque. They stopped the bulldozers outside the entrance to a Hindu temple, about 50 meters from the mosque, and began to retreat, prompting outrage from Muslim residents who said they were being targeted.
Anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks have increased across India in the past 10 days, including stonings between Hindu and Muslim groups during religious processions and demolitions of several properties, many owned by Muslims, in another state last week.
Police have arrested at least 24 suspects since communal violence erupted on Saturday during a Hindu religious procession in the Jahangirpuri neighborhood of northwest New Delhi. They said Hindu and Muslim groups threw stones at each other during a procession to mark the birth date of the Hindu god Hanuman, leaving eight police officers and a civilian injured, local media reported.
Officials say their demolition campaign targets illegal buildings and not any particular community. But critics argue this is the latest attempt to harass and marginalize Muslims, who make up 14% of India’s 1.4 billion population, and point to a pattern of growing religious polarization under the former’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party. -Minister Narendra Modi.
On Wednesday morning, bulldozers demolished a series of roadside shops in Jahangirpuri as owners peered through the windows of their homes, watching helplessly as their tents were destroyed or taken away in trucks.
“They don’t want Muslims to live in this country. Why? Are Muslims terrorists?” said Sabiran Bibi, 31, who has lived in the area her entire life.
Raja Iqbal Singh, mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is ruled by the BJP, said authorities are only tearing down “illegal buildings that have encroached on the roads”. He added that the action had nothing to do with the previous violence, but that some of the stores belonged to people accused of rioting.
The move came as the area in northwest New Delhi was overrun by paramilitary forces in riot gear and comes after the city’s BJP chief Adesh Gupta urged the municipal corporation to “take action against illegal construction and encroachment by protesters.” “, he said in a statement. tweet on Wednesday. “I congratulate the corporation for taking swift action on this,” he said.
While officials called it a “routine exercise,” Gupta’s call and the timing of the move — four days after the neighborhood violence began — raised questions.
A similar demolition movement was seen last week in the city of Khargone, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, after a Hindu procession on April 10 to mark Lord Ram’s birth anniversary erupted into violence, with Hindu crowds brandishing swords and clubs. as they marched through Muslim neighborhoods and mosques. Soon, groups from both communities began throwing stones at each other, according to police.
A day later, bulldozers demolished around 45 buildings, including houses and shops, in five parts of the city of Khargone. Many, though not all, of them belonged to the Muslim population, local media reported.
“The demolished buildings were illegal structures installed on encroached land belonging to people from both communities,” P Anugraha, the city’s district collector, told The Indian Express last week.