14, Jan 2023 | Tanya Arora
Last year was marred by a spate of evictions carried out by several governments in small pockets across states. Even as the year 2022 came to a close, and in the first weeks of the New year, the administration in these states continued with their ‘bulldozer action’: MP, UP, Uttarakhand and Assam. In 2021, the brutal eviction drive in Assam’s Dhalpur district had drawn widespread international and national condemnation.
Citizens for Justice and Peace has been carrying out a regular campaign to defend every Indian’s right to housing while highlighting the present government’s overtly discriminatory policies.
With the Kumbh Mela set to take place in Ujjain in 2028, the Madhya Pradesh government has requested that locals, the number of which runs into hundreds, vacate the Gulmohar neighbourhood in Ujjain. On December 27, a majority of the Gulmohar and Gyarsi colonies’ residents, who are majorly Muslims, were asked to leave their homes, according to a public notice published by the Ujjain Municipal Corporation (UMC).
A report in the Muslim mirror states that locals have claimed that a resident named Salim Bhai Patangwale passed away, in shock and trauma, as soon as the UMC notice arrived in the neighbourhood on December 11, 2022.
As alleged by the residents of the Gulmohar and Gyarsi Colonies, no land owned by the government was used to build their dwellings. Instead, the owners have stated that they were small farmers. These people tried farming in an effort to recover their investment, but when they remained unsuccessful, they sold their land in the form of small plots to the current residents of Gulmohar and Gyarsi colonies.
Now, the administration wants to get rid of the residents from land that is not (technically) owned by them, to prepare for an event that is scheduled for five years later. It is not a coincidence that Madhya Pradesh is a BJP run state. Observing the latest pattern in practical use in BJP state governments, if a colony is a Muslim-dominated colony, the chances of them being served with eviction notices or tier houses being demolished with bulldozers is becoming increasingly high.
It is also crucial to highlight that these above-mentioned notices were issued in the midst of forcible demolitions that were taking place in Haldwani after an Uttarakhand court ordered the demolition of the homes of more than 4,300 Gafoor Basti inhabitants. This action has been presently stayed by the Supreme Court of India.
India, new India is unfortunately now a country where Muslims are, of late the most persistent scapegoats, experiencing violence emanating from stigma and demonizing. The ‘blame game’ stretches from whipped up propaganda about spreading the coronavirus, marrying Hindu women in order to forcibly convert them or buying land in Hindu majority areas to slowly take over India. These narratives then become the ruling regime’s propaganda tool to promote an embedded supremacism and nationalism. This is only one of many methods to break the will of those voices resisting the path to exclusion and majoritarianism. This is a particularly vicious one pioneered in Khargone (MP), Jahagirpuri (Delhi) and Allahabad (UP) now repeated with frightening regularity. This method attacks the hearth and homes of the people belonging to religious minorities, through eviction or using bulldozers illegally. Years 2022 on has seen multiple such attacks, a new form of targeted violence.
Uttarakhand: Haldwani eviction
On December 20, 2022, a decision was pronounced by the Uttarakhand High Court that allowed for the eviction of nearly 4,000 families from a land in Haldwani that the Railways had claimed as theirs. Not only this, the court had also allowed the government to use “such force as was deemed necessary” by then to make this eviction happen. This ruling of the High Court affected more than 50,000 people living in this 2.2 km long stretch, most of whom were Muslims.
The high court’s ruling was then contested in the nation’s top court. On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed the eviction order while noting that the case had a humanitarian component that needed to be taken into account. The Supreme Court had also mentioned that eviction needs to be accomplished following due process of law and after providing suitable rehabilitation to the ones getting evicted. As soon as the stay order of the Supreme Court came, the people of Haldwani rejoiced with happiness and relief. However, even as this decision saved them from being rendered homeless, the battle is far from over. Using the power of eviction has become the new method of oppressing the religious minorities and the marginalized sections in states run by the BJP government.
It is also pertinent to note that this is not the first time that Supreme Court has come to the rescue of residents of Haldwani Ghafoor Basti. In January 2017, Supreme Court stayed the order of the Uttarakhand High Court ordering the eviction of encroachment of land near the Haldwani railway station. But back then the land area in dispute was 29 acres. But now Railway wants occupants from about 78 acres removed.
Attacks on this Muslim basti (settlement) have been increasing since the BJP came to power in the year 2016. The sad reality of today’s India is that this eviction order will neither be the last order to render a minority community illegal and homeless, nor will the Courts of India be able to save the citizens from eviction every time. While the pretext used by the BJP government in Haldwani, illegal encroachment of railway land, was different from that in Ujjain, land needed from Kumbh Mela, the result is the same- unlawful eviction of Muslims from a Muslim dominated area.
Assam: Lakhimpur eviction
The Himanta Biswa Sarma-led BJP government is once again preparing to clear approximately 450 hectares of “encroached” forest land in Lakhimpur district, despite a controversy boiling over alleged “targeted” eviction efforts in Assam. The Sarma government has conducted three eviction drives in the past month in an effort to eliminate two villages, Adhasona and Mohaghuli, which are home to 500 Muslim households of Bengali ancestry.
The drive will be carried out in Lakhimpur’s Pabha Reserve Forest (RF) area, once known for its wild buffalo population, by the forest department along with the district administration and police. As reported by the Outlook, despite criticism from the opposition, Sarma had stated to the Assembly on December 21 that Assam’s eviction drives to clear government and forest lands.
Around 450 hectares of Pava Reserve Forest are being cleared as part of the discriminatory eviction that the state started on January 10. Some 200 hectares of the 201-family Mohghuli village were cleared on the first day by government workers. 299 households had to relocate on January 11. The authorities destroyed the evicted residents’ crops, and they were primarily Bengali-speaking Muslims who, as per Outlook, lamented that they could not retrieve all of their possessions. A section of locals had alleged that only Bengali Muslims have been “singled out” for the eviction. It had been reported that out of some 4,500 hectares, only 501 hectares of land has been earmarked for eviction, where a particular community of Bengali Muslims live in domination.
Not only has the BJP government been accused of selectively targeted the community of Bengali Muslims, they have also been accused of unnecessarily using excessive force and militarising the atmosphere. As provided by the media reports, even while most people are cooperating, to which they have no choice because they are scared, the BJP government insists on making a spectacle out of it by deploying a lot of security, and creating a tense atmosphere.
It is also crucial to highlight that this latest eviction drives follows two other eviction exercises that had been carried out in the state of Assam in the month of December amid protests from the Opposition parties. On December 19, in what was touted as one of the largest such drives against “encroachers” on government land, around 500 families were evicted from near the birthplace of Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardeva in Nagaon’s Batadrava. Protesting the Nagaon drive, the Opposition MLAs had staged a walkout in the Assembly, demanding that the government ensure alternative land for rehabilitation of the evicted families, especially when it is the season of winters. Subsequently, another such drive was undertaken at the end of December, when around 40 families were evicted from Kanara Satra in Barpeta district.
Assam actually led this brute eviction drive politics when in September 2021, the violent firing on residents, simply silently resisting the sudden attack on their homes in Dhalpur district left several dead. This also involved targeting settlements of largely Muslims, settled here for decades, following river erosion that has seen internal migration of a high order in the state.
There is a troubling and pervasive culture of hate and impunity in India, which must be seen in the context of the BJP’s attempts to disenfranchise India’s Muslim community over time, such as the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the nationalist politics of the Assamese eviction drives.
Uttar Pradesh: Kushinagar
On December 24, 2022, in the Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh’s Nutan Hardo village, as many as 44 Muslim families have been asked to vacate their homes with the administration claiming that the houses have been built on “encroached land.” This continues a spate of demolitions launched by BJP-ruled governments all over India.
Two circles reported that the Uttar Pradesh government has sent eviction notices to 47 families of Nutan Hardo village, Padrauna tehsil of Kushinagar, out of which 44 are Muslims. 4 families have already been asked to vacate too. Meanwhile, locals have alleged that on December 25, the Lekhpal (revenue officer) came to their village and vandalised some houses and shops of the villagers even while serving the notice, a grossly illegal act.
60-year-old Sayida Bano, from Nutan Hardo village, told the TwoCircles.net that her family has been living in the village for generations and yet they were served the eviction notice. When queried about why they have been served the eviction notice, Sayida said, that it is because they are Muslims that they have been served this eviction notice.
Uttar Pradesh, ruled by Yogi Government, run the state with the power of Bulldozer behind them. Almost an election symbol, there have been many instances of hate speech and persecution of Muslims in this state. More than eviction drives, Uttar Pradesh government has been involved in using bulldozers to destroy the homes of the people belonging to the minority community, or madrasas and mosques, by deeming them illegal overnight. On November 17, in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, district authorities razed down a 300-year old mosque. As provided by the official involved in the razing, the 300-year-old mosque was demolished as it came in the way of 709 AD Panipat-Khatima highway. The said demolition was deemed as a required move for the motive of road widening.
Evictions have become a regular phenomenon in several BJP-run states. The state’s politicians, the state machinery and powerful media houses all appear to be on a mission to alienate, persecute and suppress the minority communities living in India. From terming the protesting people as ‘enemies of the state’, to using state sanctioned forces with the aim of suppressing the voice of the people, an environment of threat and violence has been created for the Muslims living here.
The evictions demonstrate a pattern of discrimination against Muslim families residing on public property or property that is later determined to be owned by a government agency.
After the eviction, people’s entitlement to democratic and human rights, rehabilitation, and resettlement is also overlooked. The narrow, communal, divisive and myopic approach adopted by the BJP led administration, to categorically exclude the religious communities, is a whip to the “secular” essence promoted by our Constitution. As this new year of 2023 begins, more and more such attacks and tactics will probably be used by the BJP government to further ostracize the Muslim community.
A detailed analysis of eviction drives and bulldozer action throughout the year 2022 may be read here.
Image: Representational Image