India is not Israel, the Muslims who live there “are not Palestinians”

By Naveen Tewari, Sandeep Pandey*
A recent full cover page of a Bhartiya Janata Party government advertisement states: “House is not just a word. It’s a place where the power to dream comes and aspirations come true. Home is much more about dignity and safety than shelter. He goes on to quote Narendra Modi, “It is my dream that every Indian will have a pucca house by 2022.” The occasion was the dedication of houses built by a private builder Balaji to the poor.
After witnessing the now iconic photo of a bulldozer rolling down the Prayagraj home of the parents of Muslim student and activist Afreen Fatima in recent days, who took part in the protests against the Anti-Citizenship Law and the National Citizens Register, one is almost tempted to look for a copy in small print at the bottom of the page to the effect that the promise of house is subject to the condition of not participating in any anti-government demonstrations, otherwise there is a danger of bulldozers arriving .
A house built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana by Hasina Fakhroo was demolished by the administration following clashes during a Ram Navami procession in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh in April this year.
Riot police and paramilitary forces are deployed by all governments to control mob violence. These forces use all kinds of weapons and deterrents to enforce law and order. The interrogation and arrest of culprits inciting violence or inciting mobs to challenge state authority is a follow-up action that culminates in trials and sentencing of culprits.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has found a new weapon to deal with lawbreakers who pose a challenge to state authority, namely the Bulldozer! Only Yogi Adityanath knows from which book of criminal jurisprudence this sheet was taken.
At least it’s hard to find an example anywhere in the world with the sole exception of Israel where the government is in constant conflict with the Palestinian population. Palestinian land is forcibly taken to build Jewish settlements and Palestinians are subjected to brutal repression when they resist.
Law in India is not based on the whims and impulses of a ruler. It is a strictly codified framework with inflexible procedures and defined limits to its application. The rule of law is not a ruler’s ordinance or dictate, but is based on the Constitution, and laws made by the Legislative Branch are within the structure of the Constitution.
Even the most archaic laws like Sharia provide a specific punishment for each particular crime. The cutting of hands and beheading may seem repulsive and uncivilized to us, but they are based on a certain penal code. Even the Taliban government wouldn’t go beyond the framework of Sharia to punish the culprits by boiling them in water or chopping them piece by piece or sawing them vertically!
Here in India, for the whole nation to see, including the Supreme Court and High Courts, a Chief Minister is setting an example of how to be law unto himself! We are shocked by the lack of reaction to this outrageous and audacious act from the media, intellectuals and activists who are perhaps keeping quiet for fear that the same bulldozers will knock on their doors.

It is further appalling that the spineless judges, who sit on the benches of the constitutional courts, flaunting their unlimited powers and authority before an ordinary citizen litigant, lose their gavel and their tongue in a horrible display of mockery of justice in full public.

In full view of the Supreme Court and High Courts, a Chief Minister sets an example of how to be a law in his own right

Where is civil society in this country? Is there? Is there a civilized society? What kind of people can watch this naked dance of bogus democracy which is more oppressive dictatorship than anything else?
India is not Israel and the Muslims living there are not Palestinians (although nothing justifies even the inhumane actions of the Israeli government). Muslims are our own countrymen living under the same Constitution which treats every person (not just citizens) equal before the law.
If a Muslim has built a house illegally, it does not mean that it can be demolished without due legal process, while Hindus building multi-storey buildings and settlements, in violation of the law, will enjoy immunity.
It’s not that bulldozers haven’t been used before to demolish the homes or kiosks of street vendors. In fact, quite frequently, government administrations across the country have demolished colonies of poor people, mostly migrants from rural areas or other states, who come to cities in search of livelihoods and set up their jhuggis or kiosks on some government land.
Recently, hundreds of families were uprooted in the city of Ahmedabad who had been living next to the railway tracks for more than two decades. In these cases, too, the Constitution and the directives of the Court are violated, but the governments justify it on certain grounds. What is new now is selective political targeting, especially by BJP governments.
The government of Uttar Pradesh is writing a novel about crime and punishment. But even this book will not be the final code because once we go down this path of degeneracy. Any other ruler who comes to power will enjoy the privilege of acting according to his own whims and fancies.
Yogi Adityanath should just remember the day he cried in Parliament fearing that his life was in danger just because Gorakhpur district administration arrested him for a brief period. It makes people worse.
The UP government has enacted ‘Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act, 2020’ which seeks to recover damages to any property during any agitation from the defendants. A claims tribunal will determine the amount of recovery and its decision may not be challenged in any court.
Moreover, the burden of proof is on the accused to prove his innocence. This is another example of the authoritarian way the Yogi government has dealt with dissenters.
One question we would like to ask is if the demolition of someone’s house is later found to be illegal by a court, shouldn’t the officials who ordered the demolition in the first place be subject to a law similar to the one mentioned above. If citizens can be held liable for property damage, why shouldn’t officials?

*Naveen Tewari is an entrepreneur-activist; Social activist winner of the Magsaysay-academic award, Sandeep Pandey is secretary general of the Socialist Party (India)