Last week, I said that the real victims of the bulldozers in Khargone were the rule of law and the Indian Constitution. Unfortunately, it happened again. This time in a Delhi slum. It also became clear that there is nothing random about where the bulldozers go. There is a pattern. So the shattered homes and businesses in Delhi were in a Muslim area from where stones were thrown at a Hindu religious procession. The BJP has chosen its most aggressive spokespersons to defend this policy in prime time. “Who are these secular lawyers who arrive so quickly at the Supreme Court? shouted a particularly belligerent spokesperson before asking “why is it always Azhar and Ahmed who break the law and not Arjun or Ajay”. To appoint this spokesperson would be to honor the hatred and venom he spat out. Suffice to say he is practically the TV face of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Meanwhile, in the Supreme Court, India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had this to say. “This is an ongoing demolition campaign… No one can point to a particular encroachment being removed simply because the encroachment belonged to a particular community or participated in the communal riots.” To say that it was just a coincidence that bulldozers appeared at the exact spot where the Hindu procession was attacked is misleading. But personally, I was more disappointed by what the opposition political leaders said. Those who rushed to this neglected and relatively dark shanty town focused on the fact that it is Muslim homes and businesses that are targeted. Not true. Among the saddest images of this bulldozer attack was that of a small Hindu boy rummaging through the debris of his father’s juice shop to salvage what little he could. The other was of a Bihari Hindu paanwala weeping over the wreckage of the frail handcart from which he sold his wares.
The bulldozers did not distinguish between Hindus and Muslims, or between legal and illegal structures. There are clear rules that must be followed before the demolition crews arrive, and these were not followed in Delhi, just as they were not followed in Khargone the week before. The message the bulldozers are hammering home is that the Indian state is willing to disregard the rule of law to instill fear and obedience. If the rules of the jungle are necessary to silence those who oppose the power of the state, so be it.
What sickened me most about the events of the past week was the support the wrecking crews got from major television presenters. A famous presenter tweeted jokingly that there may soon be a shortage of bulldozers in the country. And another famous presenter said in a panel discussion before a live audience that people should be careful not to challenge the power of the state. These ladies have shown a lack of empathy and subservience which proves that the Indian media are now truly worthy of being called ‘godi media’.
If there was one pillar of democracy that stood up, it was the Supreme Court. He stopped the bulldozers for 15 days to examine what really happened and whether the rules were broken. And he made it clear that he would take very seriously any case where the bulldozers continued after giving the order to stop. City officials in charge of demolition crews continued their activities in defiance of the Supreme Court until Brinda Karat, who I am proud to have known since school, physically walked into a bulldozer with the order by hand. As the heroine of the day when she was later interviewed on television, she said what was truly distressing was that the victims of the bulldozers were some of our poorest fellow citizens.
This is something that bothered me as well, as it brought back horrible memories of Sanjay Gandhi’s ‘beautification campaign’ during the emergency. Delhi’s poorest citizens had their sad little homes bulldozed that time too and they were ‘resettled’ across the Yamuna. They were dumped on a vacant lot on which tiny plots were chalked out to indicate where they were to build their new homes. The result was that slums like Jahangirpuri sprang up. Somehow, the resettled people have managed to survive and even prosper despite not benefiting from any of the public services provided by the municipalities, such as water, electricity and waste collection. garbage.
Instead of slums on this side of the river, India’s capital now has slums on the other side of the river where visiting prime ministers and presidents do not go. They stop like Boris Johnson did at Rajghat. Speaking of Boris, did anyone warn him that posing for photos on a bulldozer was really bad timing? It doesn’t matter, though, since people whose homes and businesses have been bulldozed don’t have time to worry about visiting dignitaries.
What matters to them is what the Supreme Court will decide. Hopefully he states in the clearest terms that when state agents begin to violate the rule of law, they lose the right to enforce it. The Supreme Court cannot show weakness, or in India we could be in grave danger of seeing the blindfolded Lady Justice replaced by a new symbol. The bulldozer.